When I give presentations, I talk about the act of writing a novel as analogous to dragging a magnet across a table full of paper clips. (Why you would want to do such a thing, I don’t know, but just go with it.) By the time you’re done, you’ve got a bunch of paper clips stuck to your magnet, and that’s your novel.
For The Weird Sisters, one of the paper clips was birth order. Another was what it means to be an adult. And breast cancer. And family communication. And the power of our names. And Shakespeare.
You get the idea.
I wish I had a great story about being struck by lightning with an idea for any of my novels, but that never seems to happen to me. I just plod away, collecting paper clips, until I have enough to make a novel. Without enough paper clips, your novel will suffer from a saggy middle, or be too dull to even bother finishing. Too many paper clips, and you’ll just end up confusing people.
So I can’t say I had a big idea.
But I do have something even better. We’re working on cleaning out my parents’ house, and my mother and I were going through some family silver when we came across my very favorite piece of all. A very, very big spoon.
That is next to a normal-sized spoon, just to give you some perspective. We offered the other silver pieces to my cousins and sisters, but that spoon was ALL MINE.
Are you ever struck by a big idea, or do ideas tend to come together, like paper clips sticking to a magnet?*
*Alternately, you can just comment and tell me how awesome my big spoon is. Because it is really, really awesome.
Are you interested in being one of the new Debs at The Debutante Ball? We want to hear from you!
We are looking for female writers who have not yet had a book published, but will have one released between September 2011 and August 2012 by a commercial publisher. You need a firm release date to be considered (well, as firm as it ever gets in publishing!).
Read more »
Here’s the thing about The Big Idea, at least in my opinion.
It’s not such a big deal.
Yes, the Big Idea is great, and you want it to have that compelling “elevator pitch” quality that will reel people in the second they hear about it… but the Big Idea is really a very small part of writing any story, in any medium. The meat is in the details.
I remember realizing this vividly when I was in high school. It was 1988 (go ahead, do the math), and three movies came out at pretty much the exact same time, all with the same Big Idea: spend some time in a body not your own, and gain a new perspective on life.
The movies? Vice Versa (dad and kid exchange bodies), 18 Again (kid and grandfather swap bodies), and Big (kid makes a wish and gets an adult body).
Most likely, you only know one of those movies. I actually saw all three, and you didn’t miss anything.
And yet… they all had the same Big Idea.
The difference, of course, is in the execution. A Big Idea might sell a project, but if the execution isn’t solid; if the details aren’t specific, unique, and compelling, the story will be hollow, and it won’t succeed.
Publishing is a business and it’s certainly easier to sell your book when you have a Big Idea “hook,” but the biggest mistake you can make is thinking you’re done once you have it. Got a hook you love? Great. Set it aside and don’t concentrate on it while you figure out your characters, your world, and all the little idiosyncrasies that make your story ring true. Once that work is in place, you’ll have more than a Big Idea, you’ll have a great story that works.
Have you found this in your own writing? Do you tend to be inspired by a Big Idea, then work back to fill in the world? From what I’ve gathered in his author notes, that was the process of Stephen King’s Under The Dome — he had an immediate Big Idea of a Dome sitting over a town… but the story only works because he moved beyond that idea to get intimately involved with every personal story within that town. Or do you start your stories with a character that speaks to you, then follow him/her until you find the story, and whatever Big Idea naturally evolves?
~ Deb Elise
Congrats to Sara who won Paul Elwork’s The Girl Who Would Speak to the Dead.
From the 2011 Debs…
Deb Eleanor is at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago next weekend (Saturday, June 4 at 11:15 am), along with past Deb Kristina Riggle, and friends of the Debs Kelly O’Connor McNees, Therese Fowler, Meg Waite Clayton, Wendy McClure, and literally dozens of other amazing writers. Do come check it out if you’re nearby!
Deb Tawna was tickled pink when she finally, FINALLY got to hold an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of Making Waves in her hand. She was also delighted to learn that Sourcebooks has arranged for nationwide distribution of the book in Walmarts around the United States.
Deb Kim is at Autism One in Chicago (freezing!) Here’s a snap from the Generation Rescue party last night with Jenny McCarthy, who wrote the intro to my book.
Deb Elise was thrilled to receive in the mail… the book jacket for Populazzi! It looks gorgeous, and she couldn’t be more excited!
Deb Dish — Memorial Day Weekend — What’cha Gonna Do?
Let’s see… get some work done? Also going to get together with family and friends and barbecue. And if I get to sleep sometime soon, I’ll try to get in a ten mile run in the morning, which I really need quite badly.
I’m happy to have a weekend at home for the first time in a long time, though, ironically, my sweetie is traveling. So I’ll be doing the traditional Memorial Day reading, writing, and cleaning out the closet.
Fly home from Chicago to spend the rest of my weekend with my family. I love traveling but miss my kids and my husband who IS SuperDad when I am away.
Writing! I have lots of work to do on my draft of novel #3. And I think we’ll barbecue too.
I hate yardwork with a bloody passion, but I do love having a vegetable and herb garden. I figure I can trick myself into pulling weeds and mowing the lawn if I make myself believe that’s what I have to do to get the garden ready.
Since fourth grade, Kaira Rouda’s dream has been to publish a novel and that dream is finally coming true with her debut novel, Here, Home, Hope. Between elementary school, and today, Kaira’s been – well – quite busy. She’s a mom of four now teenaged children, has been married to her husband for 20+ years, has published a nonfiction book – Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs – and enjoyed a full, much-lauded career as an entrepreneur and marketing professional. All of this full life had a way of getting between her and this, her dream. Kaira believes with all her heart the best is yet to come. She’s thrilled to be profiled here in the company of the amazing Debs!
HERE, HOME, HOPE is the absorbing, witty story of one suburban mother’s journey from midlife crisis to reinvention. Available at bookstores and online everywhere, read the first chapter on Kaira’s website at http://www.kairarouda.com/books/here-home-hope/
We’re thrilled to have Kaira with us on the Ball today. Read on, and don’t forget to leave a comment to enter to win a copy of Here, Home, Hope!
Kaira Rouda Takes the Deb Interview!
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
The Debs all wrote about goals this week, and my goal for so long has been to be a published novelist. I’ve been working away, submitting queries off and on for years, but I never allowed myself permission to fully go for that dream – or dare to – until now. So, instead of focusing on my novels, I’ve kept really busy doing almost every type of writing job possible over my career. And what I’ve realized is that each of these jobs added to who I am and what I can write about. The journey adds depth to life, the good things and especially, the bad.
So when I thought about the strangest job I’ve had, I had to think back through a lot of jobs: check-out gal at discount big box before scanners, credit card authorization rep, retail sales, waitressing, waitressing and did I mention waitressing, reporter, magazine writer and editor, ad agency account person, city society columnist, national carpet cleaning chain vice president, co-founder and president of residential real estate company, speaker, and now, author. As you can imagine, I have a lot of strangest job stories, but if I had to pick one moment that I can write about here it would be promoting Frosty Paws Dog Ice Cream at product launch. (Imagine New Orleans, August, grocery store parking lot, hot dogs, photo shoot, melting ice cream, ensuing mayhem.)
Have you ever met someone you idolized? What was it like?
I’ve been so lucky to meet several women I idolize. I met Gloria Steinem at an event a few years ago and was awestruck. I still am. I’ve spent a large portion of my life working to empower women and meeting one of the catalysts of change and progress was amazing. I have an autographed photo of her hanging in my office, just above my Rosie the Riveter bobble head. Another dynamo I was thrilled to meet was Katie Couric. She’s just as warm and real in person as she is on television. I can’t wait to see what her next act is – and I’ll be cheering her on all the way. And then there is the unique category of authors. Whenever I meet an author I admire – and I’ve been so lucky to meet several through this journey to become published – my palms sweat and I become an embarrassing wreck. I’m in awe of their talent and word-beauty. Oh, and since we moved to Southern California, I have celebrity encounters fairly often. Seeing Goldie Hawn at a restaurant one night was a huge thrill. I heard her signature laugh in person and it made me smile.
Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?
Yes, yes and yes. And even more commonly a woman will tell me, with certainty, she “knows” who one of the characters is – whether it’s Kelly, Charlotte, Kathryn or Melanie – and names someone from her suburb. I love that. I am flattered when a reader says Grandville ~ the fictional suburban setting of HERE, HOME, HOPE ~ is just like where she lives and she knows those people. That is the best compliment. In fact, all of my novels to date are set in Grandville, so there will be even more characters to get to know soon.
Do you have a regular first reader?
My husband, Harley, is my first reader, poor guy. I tease him that over the years – we’ve been married 21 years as of yesterday – he has grown quite in touch with his feminine side through my manuscripts. He is a great sport though – and an amazing partner.
If I was stranded on a desert island, the three things I’d want would be…
My family (ha, snuck them all in there in a lump, including my dogs), cheese and my laptop. My four kids are the center of my life and they are amazing. Now that they’re teens, we could build a great tree fort Swiss Family Robinson style. We’d forage for fresh island food. I’d have their full attention. We’d play board games each night. (Ok, so a mom can dream.) The only character in HERE, HOME, HOPE who is real is Oreo, my mutt. He’s 11 years old and my sidekick. Recently, because I’m weak in the face of teen pressure and puppies are adorable, we added Tucker to the family. So he’d come to the island, too.
I love cheese. I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like.
And I don’t really need to explain the laptop, since as hinted above, I need to keep working on book number two. (Of course my desert island has electricity and internet access.)
What’s your next big thing?
At present, I’m earnestly learning the art of fiction book promotion, which is quite distinct from nonfiction book promotion. These next few months are filled with events and fun surrounding HERE, HOME, HOPE. My new goal is to make a career of this and therefore, I’m hard at work on rewrites of my second novel. I am having the time of my life!
If you’d like to win a copy of Here, Home, Hope, leave a comment below! In the meantime, come say hello to Kaira on Twitter @KairaRouda and on her Facebook Fan Page Kaira Rouda Books!
When I was eight, my parents signed me up for a soccer team.
I’m certain the coach explained the fundamentals of the game, but equally certain I was too busy picking dandelions to listen.
I had a dim notion I was supposed to kick the ball toward the goal, but it wasn’t until my teammates began screaming at me during the first game that I learned it made a difference which goal I aimed for.
Deb Tawna in her middle school soccer gear (with baby brother who's now a foot taller than she is).
Determined to hone my skills, my brother and I set up a makeshift soccer field in the backyard. We created goals by flipping lawn chairs on their sides and kicking the ball at them. This worked splendidly until all our goals had giant holes in the center and no one in the family had anyplace to lie down and sunbathe.
You would think I might have given up at this point, but I went on to join the middle school soccer team. My goal was not to fine-tune my athletic prowess or enjoy team camraderie. My goal was to keep an eye on the football team practicing on the adjacent field, and to wonder whether the cute quarterback noticed I chose his number to adorn the back of my own jersey.
It was boy craziness that eventually derailed my budding soccer career at the end of my sophomore year in high school. I developed a string of crushes on members of the cross country team and found soccer practice greatly hindered my ability to ogle the boys on race days.
Unless you count the lawn chairs, I don’t believe I ever scored a goal in a soccer game. I was quick on my feet, but not particularly skilled at ball handling.
I’ll pause for a moment while you all snicker at that one.
I don’t look back with regret on my failed youthful soccer career. My goals out there may not have been the ones I was supposed to aim for, but they suited me just fine.
Are there areas in your life where you shot for the wrong goal or didn’t make one at all, but still turned out OK? Please share!
And please take a moment to admire my fluffy hair and pink lipstick. That’s the result of some serious AquaNet and Wet-n-Wild, folks. Who says I don’t have reasons to be proud?
Love all the talk about goals this week. It’s a hot topic for me right now as I’m moving past the halfway mark of book #3 (it does have a title (a really good one!), but I can’t share it just yet—but oh my goodness, I can tell you that I love these new characters and this story is absolutely making me cry as I write it—it’s an emotional story to write! Am I allowed to cry when writing?!) But, back to goals. There are so many things about publishing that we can’t control (print runs, reviews, big book deals, making the New York Times bestseller list, for example!), but we can control our words and our stories. And these have been my consistent goals when it comes to fiction:
*Create characters that captivate me: As I wrote above, I have been really moved by the characters I dreamed up for my third novel. If a character or a story doesn’t captivate me, I give myself permission to kill them off. Geez, I am mean!
*Write every day: I try to sit down with my story on a daily basis, even if it means only writing a single page, or just a few lines. So much of the time it’s more about the act of “checking in” with my story than it is about really churning out pages. When I’m away from the story too long, I lose sight of the details.
*Look for inspiration all around: For me, writing is a big juggle with other stuff—namely, magazine work, motherhood, and life. I try to think of all the stuff I do when I’m not working on my novels as research for my stories. And, by paying attention to those little details, in fact, I got the inspiration for the violets in The Violets of March! You can read about that story here.
*Read every day: I carve out time to read for pleasure every night before bed. Sometimes I only read a page before my eyelids get heavy, but I always crack the spine of a book. It’s a habit that I hope to have forever, and one that is very important for any author. I also love to support other authors by buying their books. I just bought Camille Noe Pagan’s The Art of Forgetting, Kristina McMorris’ Letters From Home, and Meg Mitchell Moore’s The Arrivals.
These goals of mine are all fine and dandy, but there’s a little guy named Colby who does his best to sabotage them (as do his two older brothers!)! I find his antics awfully cute, though.