6

Newsflash: September 2, 2012

From the 2012 Debs…

Deb Joanne has no writing/publishing related news of her own, but she would like to remind you to check out Deb Linda’s IN A FIX when it releases on Tuesday. 

Deb Erika is heading to Naples, FL this week to be a part of the SIBA Show where she’ll be on the Saints & Sinners & Swimmers panel and discussing her upcoming release THE MERMAID COLLECTOR!

Deb Linda has her first “author event” coming up on Sept. 8 at 2 PM at the Reston VA Barnes & Noble, and would love to see any and all local friends of the Debs there.

Deb Rachel is so excited that MWF Seeking BFF is back on the “emerging authors” promotion at Target. Won’t you head over to Target and pick up a copy?

Past Deb News

Deb Eleanor had a blast chatting with the Booktini Book Club in Massachusetts, whose discussion of THE WEIRD SISTERS included book-inspired foods! Click here to read their THE WEIRD SISTERS theme menu!

Deb Tawna announced tour dates for her part in The Crazy Eights Author Tour. Click here to see where she’s headed–maybe to a bookstore near you!

Deb Friends

Deb friend Lisa McMann’s ISLAND OF SILENCE, follow up to her highly acclaimed THE UNWANTEDS, releases on Tuesday, September 4 and is sure to be another exciting installment in this middle grade series.

Deb Guest Siobhan Fallon‘s YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN HAVE GONE has won the PEN Fiction Award!

Deb Dish – Now that you’ve reached the end of your debut year, what is one piece of advice you can offer to next year’s Debs for navigating the waters of their first release?

Deb Joanne - I would have to say budget your time wisely and book a holiday. Seriously. You may feel like you can’t/shouldn’t book a holiday for soon after your launch, but take it from me, you’re going to need it. You will need time away from sales numbers, social networking and worrying and even writing, so do yourself a favor and book a holiday now. You will need that time to refill the well and become a normal human again. Your family will appreciate it, too. 

Deb Erika I’m going to echo Joanne and say do your best to set aside time when you are not connected to social media and not checking your numbers and your Goodreads/Amazon reviews. It is so hard to step away from those statistics but you’ll want to. You’ll need to.

Deb Linda Stop and smell those proverbial roses. It all goes by so fast, and if you don’t make yourself take the time to just breathe and appreciate how far you’ve come, it’ll all be over before you know it. There’s so much to do–it will get hectic–but you’ve worked hard for your moment, so by golly, you should enjoy it.

Deb Rachel I think it’s important to try to balance your schedule. If you try to do EVERYTHING right away, you’ll burn out. Also, you never know how one opportunity will lead to the next will lead to the next, so try to say yes to as much as you can!

20

Deb Erika Always Wanted to be The Goodbye Girl (and a Golden Girl, too)

Erika MarksSo, wait?

It’s time to go?

Really?

Really really?

Okay, deep breaths, Deb Erika. You can do this.

And you know why I can? Because I know you readers are going to LOVE the new Debs of 2013, and I know we are leaving this gorgeous dance floor in their expert hands—(er, feet?).

But I can’t lie. I’m going to miss this place. A whole lot.

Those of you who’ve shared this year with us, you know I am a child of the 70s (I give you Exhibit A, Exhibit B and, my personal favorite, Exhibit C) so it shouldn’t surprise any of you, dear friends, that every time I am faced with a goodbye, this theme to the classic Neil Simon movie comes rushing to my brain. (What can I say? I’ve always had a soft spot for Richard Dreyfuss.)

Now that you have an ear worm for the rest of your day (You’re welcome), let’s stop being glib, Erika, and get serious.

I could say that I’ve been in denial a bit about this year being over for us of the Deb Class of 2012 (because I have) or that I can’t believe how fast this year has gone (because I can’t) but mostly, it just comes down to me wanting to say this:

THANK YOU.

Thank you to my beloved fellow Debs, those who helped to usher us of ’12 in, those of the class of 2013 who will two-step-and-Mambo into our reader’s hearts when we leave, and especially to those I’ve been so thrilled to share the dance floor with this year. Thank you to our readers, to our bloggers, our Deb Friends and Deb Guests, and a special thank you to our honorary member of 2012, Deb Mom Marcia.

Like David Gates sings, goodbye doesn’t mean forever. So please stay in touch friends. Come visit. You know where to find me.

Now let’s all wipe our noses and just all do like the greatest Debs ever do when it’s time to roll the credits and carry on: sidle up to the table for some cheesecake.

Hugs.

9

Newsflash: August 26, 2012

Congrats to Sara, winner of a copy of Bringing In Finn!

From the 2012 Debs…

Deb Joanne doesn’t really have any big news this week, so she’s going to tell you go to order Deb Linda’s IN A FIX because you’re going to want it the second it officially releases in just DAYS.

Deb Erika is seconding Deb Joanne’s news. Run, don’t walk (okay, maybe skip) to your nearest bookstore for your copy of IN A FIX and begin immediately. (Okay, don’t read while you’re driving home. But if you want to start reading once you’ve parked in your driveway, don’t blame me if you can’t get out of your car.)

Deb Molly thirds (that’s a thing, right?) the opinion that you should go get IN A FIX. And she would also like to thank Robert of The Book Stall in Winnetka for throwing a truly fabulous book event this week! Ladies, if you ever have a chance to do an event at the Book Stall, DO IT.

Deb Linda is ramping up into high gear for the release of In a Fix on Sept. 4th! She also wants to thank her fellow Debs for the truly fabulous Launch Week, and all the fantastic readers who left comments all week long. The winners of the ARCs are:

  • Monday: mshatch
  • Tuesday: Molly Frenzel
  • Wednesday: Diane Henders
  • Thursday: Abby Mumford
  • Friday: S.P. Bowers

Congratulations, all of you!

Past Deb News

Deb Kristina‘s new novel KEEPSAKE was reviewed by Deb Friend Swapna Krishna on her blog–read her wonderful review here!

It’s been a week of great news from Deb Sarah Jio! Not only did she share a fun video of blackberry pie making in honor of her upcoming release, BLACKBERRY WINTER, but she also shared the news that she has sold her fifth and sixth novels to Penguin! Cheers, Sarah!

Deb Sarah Pekkanen‘s first book, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, is now just $6.00 on Amazon!

Deb Friends

Deb Guest Matthew Quick‘s novel BOY21 got a fantastic review from PaperblogPrincess this week! Click here to read!

Deb Dish – Since we are gearing up to pass the tiaras to the gorgeous and talented new class of Debs, we’re preparing for some tears. Tell us one book that is guaranteed to bring out your hankies, ladies.

Deb Joanne Oh yes. There are two that easily come to mind: Chris Crutcher’s DEADLINE and Jenny Downham’s BEFORE I DIE. I bet you can guess what they’re about and there’s no secrets that they both have sad endings, but oy, we’re talking the snotty cry here. Just don’t make the mistake I did and read either of these on your lunch hour AT WORK.

Deb Erika Oh, I’m such a cheap date when it comes to crying at books. I bawl openly and often. Happy tears, sad tears–I do ‘em all! Anything from Life of Pi to The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Deb Molly I still have deep emotional scars from reading Where The Red Fern Grows in fifth grade. I sobbed when I read the book alone, I sobbed again when we had to read it out loud in class, and I sobbed AGAIN when we had to watch the movie! That was probably the origin of my “no dead dogs” rule for books (though I broke it for The Art of Racing in the Rain – worth it!)

Deb Linda OLD YELLER. I read that book when I was a kid, and I still can’t even think of it without tearing up. What is it about dog books? Oh, and LITTLE WOMEN. Beth! *bites finger and sobs*

33

Deb Linda’s Launch Week of IN A FIX Continues with Deb Erika’s Question!

Oh, I am so glad this week has arrived! Those of us here at the Ball have known for months how awesome Deb Linda’s IN A FIX is and now we can finally share our excitement with the rest of the world! (Just check out my Goodreads review for more gushing!)

I read IN A FIX over the summer when I was in desperate need of a little distraction and let me tell you: IN A FIX delivered! Deb Linda has crafted the perfect escape in her story of aura-adapter Ciel. When she isn’t switching auras, Ciel is balancing the men in her life—as Deb Joanne explained yesterday, they are a lively group—and believe me, there is NEVER a dull moment!

Which brings me to my question for Deb Linda:

As writers (and readers!) we all know how tough it can be to keep track of our characters movements and motivations, especially when the pacing gets fast and furious. From the first aura-adapting scene between Ciel, Billy and Mark, I was in awe of your ability to manage the constant switcheroos–AND to do it in such a smooth way that the reader never gets confused or lost. I’d love to know how you kept all the changes straight in YOUR head as you were writing that scene and all the scenes that involved similar levels of switching back and forth.

Thank you! I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear it worked, because there were days when I was pulling my hair out over it. *grin* It’s tough enough to come up non-repetitive, non-confusing dialogue tags–and action–when your characters stay themselves, but when they can switch identities in the blink of an eye, it can make you a little crazy. I depended a lot on my truly amazing critique partners and beta readers to let me know if things got too mixed up. And, of course, my agent and editor helped keep me on the straight and narrow path of clarity, too.

What I tried to do was come up with character “tells” — things that would let the reader know who a character was without having to state it outright. For instance, Billy likes to call Ciel “cuz” (because their moms were sorority sisters) and Mark often reverts back to her childhood nickname, “Howdy” (from Howdy Doody — she has freckles). Billy often tugs on Ciel’s hair, and Mark habitually ruffles it. Stuff like that.

When Ciel is projecting a different aura, she still thinks of herself “I,” but might make note of the physical parts that are different, like “my new, gravitationally challenged bosom” or “my liver-spotted hand.” Just little reminders to the reader (and me!) of who Ciel is at any given moment.

I also think my background in theater helps when it comes to “stage business” — what the characters are doing at any given point. Even when the focus is not on them, you still have to be aware, whether or not it’s not stated on the page, of where they are, how they’re holding themselves, what they might be fiddling with, etc. That way, when the focus does shift back to them, you’ve maintained continuity. (If that makes sense…) I think it prevents too many of those “WTF?” moments on the part of the readers. I hope so, anyway.

The only times I was actually confused myself while writing were the times Ciel was confused in the story, and I figured that maybe added to the authenticity. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) But things usually cleared up for me about the same time they did for her — one of the advantages of writing in first person. *grin*

* * * *

Three cheers for Deb Linda and her compulsively-readable debut! Do yourselves a favor, friends, and find yourself IN A FIX as soon as possible!

To our readers who write, how do you keep track of your character’s every move?

And all week Deb Linda is giving away signed ARCs of IN A FIX to one of our commenters (US and Canada only, please) so be sure and leave a comment to today’s post to be in the running!

2

Newsflash: August 19, 2012

Congrats to Jenny Ryan, winner of Nichole Bernier’s The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D!
Congrats to Alyssa Susanna, winner of Gina Rosati’s Auracle prize pack!

From the 2012 Debs…

Deb Joanne is happy to be able to share the full review of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE from Quill and Quire, Canada’s national literary magazine. Also, if you’re in the Southern Ontario area, she’ll be signing books at the Burlington Indigo on Brant Street on Sunday, August 26th from 1-4pm. Come out and see her and you might even get a chance to meet Deb Mom Marcia!

Deb Erika has heard that word on the street is that final copies of THE MERMAID COLLECTOR are on their way to her mailbox! Commence window-watching in 5…4…3…

Deb Molly had a great time teaching about plot at The Loft Literary Center last weekend, and is getting ready for this week’s Summer Pizza Party at the fabulous Book Stall at Chestnut Court, where she’ll be reading with fellow YA author T.M. Goeglin!

Deb Linda is beyond excited to find out In a Fix is mentioned (in a good way; not, yannoh, as a dire warning of what not to do or anything) in Library Journal’s recent article, “Hungry for SF: Genre Crossovers Retain Fans and Attract New Readers.” So cool! Linda loves libraries, and can’t seem to stop sighing happily.

Deb Rachel is thrilled that MWF Seeking BFF was voted “Best New Nonfiction Book By A Chicagoan” in The Chicago Reader!

Past Deb News

Deb Elise‘s wonderful POPULAZZI is a super deal right now in Kindle–just $3.68–Wow!!

Have you seen all the different covers of Deb Eleanor‘s international versions of THE WEIRD SISTERS? Check them out here!!

Deb Friends

The Decatur Book Festival is right around the corner, August 31-Sept 2, and there are many familiar faces in the list of authors attending! Among them, Deb Guests Meg Cabot, Kendare Blake, Kimberly Brock, Ann Hite and Joshilyn Jackson! Check out the website and read all about this fabulous event!

The Wall Street Journal featured Deb Guest Kathleen Grissom‘s THE KITCHEN HOUSE to discuss it’s break-out success story! Click here to read (and watch!) the segment.

Deb Dish – In honor of Deb Linda’s launch next week for her wonderful debut, IN A FIX–when was the last time you were in a fix? (No aura-adapting required, but certainly encouraged!)

Deb Erika In our house, Deb Erika is always in a fix when it comes time to check out books at the library and Deb Erika’s beloved husband comes to find that yet again his beloved wife has amassed an obscene amount of fines. Like Deb Rachel said, talk about needing an aura adapter!

Deb Linda
How about a fix I’m about to be in? My first “author event” is on September 8th at my local Barnes & Noble, and I’m already quaking in my boots. What if I get laryngitis and can’t read? (Hey, it’s not like that hasn’t happened to me before.) What if I mess up while I’m signing, and ruin the book some kind soul has just purchased? What if someone asks me a question and the best answer I can come up with is “Heck if I know!”? Yeah, I think I better get Ciel to fill in for me.

Deb Molly was recently in a fix when she learned (the hard way, of course!) that you don’t vacuum marshmallows.

Deb Rachel I find myself often making the mistake of committing to be in too many places at once, and then scrambling to fit everything in. So I’m constantly in a double-booked fix. I guess I just need to hire Ciel to adopt my aura and… problem solved!

17

Deb Erika Wants to Go Cold Turkey

Erika MarksBad habits? Oh, I’ve got ‘em. Just ask my husband.

(On second thought, don’t.)

Since we’re tackling the subject of those bad habits this week at the Ball, I thought I’d delve into some bad writing habits that I am still trying to break. (I say trying in the event that these very same words and or/phrases should end up in one of my future novels.)

There are certain words and phrases I am apparently very fond of—and it has taken some very kind ladies (aka my agent and editor) to point out just how fond I am of them.

So, in no particular order, here are some of Deb Erika’s bad prose habits:

Brightly. Oh, who knew I was so fond of this word? Well, why not? Doesn’t everything sound better when it’s done brightly? Too bad it’s redundant when I use it. As in, She smiled brightly. (Er, does anyone ever smile dully? Well, maybe. But let’s not pick hairs, shall we? Do we want me to quit this, or not?)

No matter. Oy. This one. I shudder to think how many of these I pulled out of my last manuscript. And what’s especially tricky about this one is its versatility! (No wonder I love it so!) There’s: No matter what he said she laughed. Or: No matter, he thought. Let them laugh. See what I mean?

Facial expressions. My characters apparently think lines on a face build even more character, because, boy, do they have ‘em. They frown, they smile (brightly!), they grin so much I think they’re actually trying to entertain a screaming infant or audition for mime school.

They glance a lot too. And while they’re glancing, they look. And while they look, they watch. They are really, really observant. Which is, you know, good for the reader. Within reason, of course.

The throat. It seems all too often when my characters feel things they feel it in their throat. (And I’m not talking laryngitis.) Tears well up in their throat. Regret bubbles. Dread chokes. Which leads to a lot of swallowing, and not necessarily while they’re eating or drinking. Go figure. Maybe my next lead should know the Heimlich.

And last, but not least, sometimes, at the very end of a chapter, I have this really annoying tendency to think I’m ten seconds before a commercial break on Guiding Light (a moment of silence please for our beloved, departed soaps) and I lay the da-da-dum on so thick, you need a putty knife to delete it.

Whew. I really feel better for admitting all that. Now it’s your turn, folks…

Tell me I’m not alone in trying to kick these bad habits–tell me the words or phrases you are addicted to—or the ones that drive you bonkers in other people’s writing!

18

Newsflash: August 12, 2012

From the 2012 Debs…

Deb Joanne has booked an in-person event at the Indigo in Burlington, Ontario on Sunday, August 26th, at 1pm. If you’re in the area, she’d love to see you!

Deb Erika was thrilled to announce this news from Publisher’s Marketplace: Author of Little Gale Gumbo and The Mermaid Collector, Erika Marks’ SHORELINES, about the loves and secrets in a small Cape Cod town, the restoration of an old house, and the friction that has existed for generations between a wealthy “summer” family and a native family, again to Danielle Perez at NAL, in a two-book deal, by Rebecca Gradinger at Fletcher & Company (world).

Deb Linda has been watching the new book trailer for In a Fix more than she probably should, still finding it hard to believe this whole getting-a-book-published thing is really happening. She’s also pleased as can be with the Library Journal starred review, and hopes this means she might someday see her book on the shelf at her local library.

Past Deb News

Great news! Goodreads is giving away 15 copies of Deb Sarah Jio‘s upcoming release, BLACKBERRY WINTER! Click here to enter! Oh, and did you catch the trailer yet? It’s wonderful! See for yourself!

Deb Elise Allen and Deb Sarah Pekkanen, and Deb Guest Jennifer Gooch Hummer, were featured in Working Mother’s piece on Picks from 11 Top Authors! Read what novels inspired them here!

Deb Friends

Deb Guest Beth Hoffman shared the news that her novel SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT was awarded Howard County Reads 2012 Favorite Book! Congratulations, Beth! You can read all about it here!

Mark your calenders! Deb Guest Sarah McCoy shared the exciting news that she’ll be chatting live and answering questions about her novel THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER at the Crown Publishing Group’s Facebook Jamboree on Thursday, August 23rd from 7 to 8 pm!

Deb Dish – Since we’re talking bad habits next week, let’s start things off on a positive note: What’s one habit you’ve proudly KICKED?

Deb Joanne – Smoking. I can now officially say I’ve been smoke-free for longer than I smoked. It feels pretty good most of the time, but once in a while…well, if you’ve ever smoked, you probably know what I’m talking about. Knowing that I’d probably end up divorced if I ever took it up again is an excellent motivator (along with that health thing) to stay away from cigarettes.

Deb Erika Don’t laugh. Cable. And how did I manage the feat? Cold turkey, people. We cancelled our cable years ago. But it was tough. I have always been a TV junkie. Now I get my fix the few times a year we stay at hotels.

Deb Linda Kicked? Gosh, um, let’s see … I still drink, eat junk food, and puff on an occasional cigar when I’m feeling especially badass. I’ve never bitten my fingernails or cracked my knuckles excessively, so I can’t claim to have quit those. Wait, I know! I’ve pretty much given up watching reality TV. Does that count?

15

Deb Erika Had To Wait a Long Time To Hear Voices

If there is a Holy Grail in writing, I would say it’s finding one’s Voice.

So why is it so elusive?

Well, for one thing, it’s not something you can really describe, yet it’s something you MUST have to establish yourself as a writer—Um, huh?

Much like the often-tossed-around term “High Concept” (which I am STILL not entirely sure I get, by the way) “Voice” can overwhelm and intimidate, terrify and inspire awe.

A: What is it, anyway???

And B: How long will it take me to find it??

Answer: No one can really tell you.

(See what we mean?! Ack!!)

Yesterday, Deb Joanne challenged us to come up with a possible definition of voice during this week while we discuss the subject so I thought I’d give it a whirl. (This is after all a dance floor, right?)

To me, voice is what makes my writing uniquely mine. It doesn’t mean the subject matter as much as the way I express it. It is the way I pace and plot; the way I have my characters think, the things I say and sometimes more importantly, the things I don’t. It is a tone, a mood, an emotional setting.

As for how long it takes to find it? That depends. For me, it took a long time. It took writing many, many manuscripts—and in many different genres—before I felt as if my words flowed in a way that I could comfortably, safely call “my voice.” The journey—not unlike the journey to publication—will be different for everyone.

Is there a way to hasten the process? I’m afraid not. Since voice must be something authentic, it comes when it comes. I know the writers whose voices move me, inspire me and leave me breathless with admiration. But that voice belongs to them alone, and can’t be duplicated (and who would dare try?!) Instead, trust that as you write, as you plot, as you develop your characters and your pacing, your voice will reveal itself.

And before you know it, you will have discovered the elusive thing that still defies definition.

(Just don’t tell Indy.)

So now it’s your turn, friends…How would YOU describe “voice” in what you read and/or write?

9

Newsflash: August 5, 2012

Congrats to Megan Bostic, winner of a copy of Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things!

From the 2012 Debs…

Deb Joanne – doesn’t have any book-related news this week, but she is planning to maybe vacuum her house this week, something that hasn’t happened since her book released four weeks ago. She’s also hoping her mother doesn’t read this.

Deb Erika made her travel reservations for SIBA 2012 –and hopes to see many Deb Friends while she’s there!

Deb Molly is looking forward to next weekend, when she’ll be in the Twin Cities to teach a class called “Unpacking Plot” at The Loft!

Deb Linda was thrilled to find out Kirkus thinks In a Fix is “Bright, fizzy, sexy and amusing—the perfect antidote to an attack of post-summer blues.” Fizzy makes her think of the champagne she’s going to drink to celebrate!

Past Deb News

Deb Elise was featured in SHAPE magazine, along with Deb Friends Allison Winn Scotch and Deb Guest Jennifer Gooch Hummer, for their novels and their fitness secrets! Way to go, ladies!

Deb Dish – Since we’re talking “Voice” next week, whose literary “Voice” always speaks to you?

Deb Joanne – A.S. King – I have the good fortune of counting Amy as one of my friends, but my goodness, her voice is amazing. I have to share the opening paragraph of PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ because it rocks so hard. “The pastor is saying something about how Charlie was a free spirit. He was and he wasn’t. He was free because on the inside he was tied up in knots. He lived hard because inside he was dying. Charlie made inner conflict look delicious.”

Deb Erika I think Jo-Ann Mapson has a wonderful voice in her writing–as do Louise Erdrich and Alice Hoffman. In terms of a distinct voice, I would have to say Annie Proulx. These women make it look so easy, and as we writers and readers know, it’s anything BUT.

Deb Molly Recently I’ve been re-reading Annie Dillard’s <i>Pilgrim at Tinker Creek</i>, an old favorite, and I’m struck by how young the narrative voice sounds to me. I’ve always loved the book for its vivid imagery and wild, sometimes violent portrait of the world, but never before has it struck me as being a young person’s book. This means I’m getting old, doesn’t it?

Deb Rachel I certainly haven’t read all of her books, but I was so moved by Joan Didion’s voice in The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. The story is so tragic, and the way she tells it is just piercing.

Deb Linda I love Harlen Coben’s voice in his Myron Bolitar novels. Well, all his novels, but the Myron Bolitar ones in particular. Myron is smart, a great friend, and always ready with a wisecrack under the toughest circumstances. Plus, he loves his parents. What’s not to like?

22

The Debutante Ball Welcomes Nichole Bernier!

It is with great pleasure that we welcome author Nichole Bernier to the Debutante Ball today!

Nichole is the author of the novel THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. A Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveler for 14 years, she was previously on staff as the magazine’s golf and ski editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She is a founder of the literary blog BeyondtheMargins.com and lives outside of Boston with her husband and five children. She can be found online at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Nichole’s debut novel THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D has recently released to rave reviews and she’s joining us today to talk a bit about voice in her novel.

But first, here’s a bit about her book:

THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D is about a woman who inherits the journals of a friend, and realized she didn’t know her nearly as well as she thought, including where she was really going when she died. Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women —their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears — considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices. 

And not only is Nichole here to share some wonderful thoughts with us, she is also giving away a copy of THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D to one lucky commenter (US only, please!) so make sure to leave a comment at the end of the post to be entered to win!

Finding the Unfinished Voice of Elizabeth D

By Nichole Bernier

When I began writing my novel, and trying to craft the voices for my characters, I had two strikes against me. First, I’d never written fiction, not even so much as a short story. Second, one of my main characters was dead.

But I knew she would express herself through journals, and that I just needed to find my way in. I’d kept journals most of my life, and I knew there was a rhythm to an authentic journal writing. Only I didn’t think it was something I could develop in a choppy way, on and off throughout the plot’s timeline. So I did what any good journal-keeper does. I picked up my pen, and one entry at a time, wrote out a life.

I spent several months writing the life of Elizabeth, and it felt odd, like I was posing as someone else. I started with the childhood tragedy that started her writing, and wrote through what she wore in high school, and who she had a crush on. Why she chose the college she did, and why she left. How her husband proposed, and how he lost her faith early on. And finally, whether he succeeded in winning it back.

It felt more like playacting than writing a novel, because Elizabeth wasn’t part of a plot yet. It was a one-sided profile, because I needed to get to know her better than she knew herself. She had a penchant for privacy and didn’t have many close friends, so I had to figure out why: her lonely childhood, the difficult circumstances that formed her, the steely will that transformed her, one journal entry at a time. I don’t know how many pages I had in the end. But what I do know is — well, just about everything else. I knew Elizabeth because I’d written her life in 100-odd pages. And then I threw most of them away. Because I didn’t need them all, not really. I knew what I needed in order to bring her to life after death. I didn’t need all the details, but I needed to know which were critical for the reader needed to know. And then I wrote the novel around them.

This is probably not the most orthodox or efficient way to get to know a character, particularly because the bulk of the story belongs to the other main character — the living one, Elizabeth’s friend Kate who inherits the journals, and with them, the unexpected portrait and mystery. And though you have to put your eggs in the basket of the living character, or so my agent advised, developing Kate’s voice was a struggle for me. I knew Elizabeth first, and I knew her better. So I went back to the Elizabeth drawing board and took a page from that playbook: I wrote a synopsis of what Kate’s journals would say, if she’d been inclined to keep a journal, though it wasn’t in her temperament. Finally, I let Kate see what Elizabeth wrote about her —  how Kate had let her down and underestimated her in a million small ways — and let Kate respond in her own journal. And then I threw those away too and wrote it at a remove, with the authority I needed all along. But had to develop it through letting the women speak for themselves.

* * * *

Thank you so much for visiting with us today, Nichole! And remember to leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D!