Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's It About?

The title of this post is a question I invariably receive after telling someone I'm working on a novel. My general answer is somewhat vague, since I want to keep the details for the day when everyone will be able to read the published work - which I hope will be soon! Lately, though, I've been getting this question from my faithful blog readers, so I want to address it in a more pointed way.

Before I answer the question, I'd like to explain the birth of this novel, and the strange and lengthy journey it has taken up until now. The idea came to me 25 years ago - yes, you read right - while on a getaway weekend to St. Augustine, Florida. My husband and I were staying in our favorite bed and breakfast there (if you've never gone there, make it a point - great history, great shopping and great places to stay; but I digress!). The protagonist character of the book, Samantha, began to form in my mind as I thought about a possible plot involving a woman who runs a B&B, a tragedy that brings her daughter (Samantha) from her acting profession in New York to St. Augustine to help her with the Inn, and all that happens as a result. I knew I wanted it to be a character-driven novel and I began a couple of chapters on a legal pad in longhand. After that weekend, I returned to my very busy job at Walt Disney World, my home, my family, and all my other responsibilities and - you guessed it - the book remained an idea in my head.

Over the years, and through several moves, I toyed with the book but never devoted the time necessary to finish it. At one point, when my husband and some other collaborators were working on some screenplays, it was suggested that I change the story to a screenplay format. I actually did complete it that way, but was never happy with it because it condensed all the characters, and, as a result, came out flat for me.

Finally, in the early years of the current century, I completed a draft of the book. I had a couple of people read it, and got some positive response, but they pointed out flaws as well - flaws I already suspected and they confirmed. I put the book aside because I was busy ghostwriting an autobiography, and writing articles for regional publications, and just didn't feel I could give it the attention it deserved.

Then, five years ago, we moved to Chicago. That monumental change in our lives - all to the good - saw my writing career come to a screeching halt for awhile. I was simply too busy helping my husband with his career, helping our daughter and her family settle in (they had moved here at the same time), establish a new base for all our activities and home-centered tasks, and I wanted to get acquainted with this wonderful City again.

That was a long-winded way of getting the point, but I wanted to lay it out because, during all those years, the book kept growing in my head, even when I wasn't putting words to paper. The characters grew, the story took on more shape and depth, and I believed in it so strongly that I knew it had to be completed. I revised the first draft, then did another, but still felt something was missing. My "awakening" came when I joined my writer's group last year, and they began helping me to improve what I had already written. Through that process, I have continued to find ways to make the characters come more alive on the page, and, at last, I know I possess the ability to produce the book I've always envisioned.

So, what is it about? As I've said, it's a character-driven novel (for those who are not writer savvy, that means the plot is developed from actions driven by the character's personalities). That generally places it in the category of women's fiction - even though I believe some men would find it an enjoyable read. It is titled, "Ribbons Of Love" and the title refers to all the various kinds of love that impact one's life: family ties, friends, romance, etc. - each type encountered by Samantha, the main character, influences her conflicts and the direction her life takes. The setting of the book begins in New York City before she moves to a small town in Virginia, and also includes time she spends in England. The story focuses on her, but other major characters are essential to the plot; her best friend, her mother, her new boyfriend, friends she acquires in Virginia, and some she meets in England. The forces that drive her are her acting, her love of writing, and the memories of her earlier marriage - all of these figure into her new life and the good and bad that happen there.

Without giving you the actual plot details, I hope I've created interest in reading the finished product. My hope is to have it going out to agents by the Fall (yes, of this year!). Then, we just keep trying, and play the wait-and-see game. Wish me luck - and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Never Enough Books

I've always gravitated to libraries. It doesn't matter how large or small they are, I have to investigate them, because there are never enough books in the world to satisfy my curiosity and love of reading. My mother taught me to read at the ripe old age of four, and, ever since, it has been a window to pleasure and learning.

The first library I remember was in the small town of Maitland, Florida, in the mid-1950's. The building had once been a large one-story house, and the steps up to the double doors always signalled a new adventure for me. I would ride my bike there and spend hours exploring the stacks. For several weeks one year, I was allowed to volunteer there to help with various chores, including replacing books on the shelves, so that I could earn a Girl Scout badge. It was then that I learned the Dewey Decimal System for categorizing and filing books by subject. Thirty years later, I would return to that library with our children. Maitland was now a suburb of Orlando, and where we lived for nearly 20 years. The library building had been added to, there were lots more books to peruse and borrow, but every time I walked into the "old" part of the library, all those girlhood memories flooded back. And I loved the connection that our family had to that place.

Currently, I have a card that allows me access to all the libraries in the Chicagoland area; they are all linked by computer and lend books to any branch, if requested. I can go online, search for a book, ask for it, and it is sent to my local library. It's a great help when I'm researching something or unable to locate a book in my town library. But, I still prefer to search the shelves on my own. Everyone in my family knows I could spend entire days inside a library. And there isn't a city I visit that I don't look for a library to explore, from the Library of Congress in D.C. to the smallest little book repository in a tiny hamlet somewhere.

Of course, I love bookstores, too, but access to a library is like finding a pot of gold for me. All those books, and I don't have to pay for any of them! Our daughter and son, their mates and children have acquired this same reverence for books and reading, and that gives me such satisfaction. I know they will never want for a way to escape into other worlds, to take journeys through pages that they might never take in real life, and have the ability to enrich their minds and build their dreams.

There is talk these days that electronic books and their like will mean the death knell to the printed page. I don't believe it. Because for so many like me, there is a special magic in reading a book you've spent time choosing from a library that has no equal. Besides, there are printed documents that are hundreds of years old, and we already know that electronic reproductions will deteriorate fairly rapidly. But, logical arguments aside, you'll never get me to read a book on a computer screen or a handheld device. Give me the smell of the ink, the paper, the binding. Let me escape at my leisure in a comfortable chair by the fire, or a relaxing deck chair in the shade of a tree, or propped up on pillows in bed before sleep overtakes me. That is the joy of the written word, and one of my favorite vices.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Days Slip Away

To those who read my musings, I must apologize again. The days of summer are nearing an end, and I've been remiss in writing my blog. I'm sad about that, on one hand, because I have lots of ideas for posts, but, on the other hand, I'm pleased that my writing time is being devoted to my book just now. I'm hoping that when it's finished - and published (please, please!) - that you all will read it and appreciate the time I devoted to it.

It isn't just the actual work on the novel that is keeping me busy; it's the research. And what could I have to research for a fictional story that takes place in present day? I read. I read other novelists whose work I admire to reflect on how they engage a reader, and how I could apply that to my own writing. I read nonfiction, about people or events that interest me because some of their personality traits can be woven into my characters, and incidents that intrigue me can be re-arranged and possibly used in my work. Lastly, I watch and I listen. I watch good movies to pick up on great characters and decipher what makes them great, and I listen to the snappy dialogue, or the dramatic dialogue, or the romantice dialogue. And, wherever I am, I watch, listen and learn as I study other people and their situations. All of this time is well spent because it spurs my imagination and improves the words I put to paper.

So, I'm back to it now. I have a few stolen moments before my grandson, Fletch, awakes from his nap or the phone rings or my husband comes home from his teaching duties. And, late tonight, I'll be back at the keyboard, when I can work undisturbed - and, hopefully, make some progress on my novel. And don't worry, I won't desert my blog for too much longer. I may even take a few moments, as I did today, to keep you updated on my progress.