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WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?
It's different each time. For BEAUTY, I loved the fairy tale and re-worked it to become a modern fable, using all the basic elements, then letting my imagination take over. For HAWKE'S COVE, the inspiration came when, prior to President Clinton's visit to M.V., they performed a sonar survey of the surrounding waters. Lo and behold, they found the remains of a F7F "Hellcat" fighter plane that had gone down, according to clippings from the Vineyard Gazette, on a training run from the Naval station in 1944. The pilot had been alive and waving to his wingmen, but when they came to rescue him, he was gone. The discovery was hot local news for a couple of weeks and the question of the pilot's fate a frequent conversational topic. Always going for the joke, I said, "Maybe he swam to shore and is still here." Huh. Sounds like a plot.
Sometimes inspiration is a suggestion on the wind; or the remnants of a dream.
Other ideas are very concrete. With ONE GOOD DOG, I knew that I wanted to write a 'redemption' story. I wasn't planning on writing a dog story, but when Chance appeared, that's what happened.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
Two cups of coffee around a half hour of reading, feed the dog, and go to my shed. The coffee is the important part.
Seriously, my process is built upon routine, the knowing that from this hour to that hour, I'm sitting in my shed and paying attention only to my work.
A new story evolves out of sketches in a notebook: the basic plot, main characters, sub-plot or secondary plot(s). Once I've done this, I go right to the laptop and get started.
I revise as I go until I reach a certain critical weight, usually at the half way mark, when I know my characters well and just want to keep going. Along the way, I check in with my agent, making sure I'm not headed down a wrong track with the story.
Once a first draft (which may actually be several iterations of the story) is ready, I'll send it on to my agent and then do all the housework that's been accumulating for months.
Walking is a key factor in my process. Every day, sometimes more than once, I walk the dog and think about things. Thorny plot situations, character voices, the sudden realization that I'd already planted a useful plot devise way back in Chapter ten, all get air time.
Once the manuscript has been accepted by a publisher, I'll go back and address the editor's concerns and recommendations. At this point the book is a cooperative group effort, the only thing any of us--me, the agent, the editor and the publisher--want is for this to be the best book it can be.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A BOOK?
Conservatively, about 18 months. The first draft may take up to a year, then there will be several levels of revision, all of which take time. It's a long process, with a lot of stop and start. Sometimes I'm going down a wrong path and I have to start over. But once I've completed an acceptable manuscript, the fun begins. Working with great editors is the best fun.
ARE ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS BASED ON REAL PEOPLE?
All characters are based on real people, just not actual people. By that I mean, the DNA that makes up an imaginary character comes from many sources--an overheard conversation, a compelling news story, vague memories, everyday experience, an awareness of human nature--all these elements go into the hopper and come out a fully realized character. What I don't consciously do is take people I know and use their personal stories in any specific way...despite a dear friend always claiming that every book is 'all about me!' Okay, so I did use her maiden name, maybe she has a point.
Writers are hyperaware noticers. We notice the details in the way a mother wipes her child's nose, or the way a frozen pond is bristly with marsh grass. Or the fact a curtain the window of the reclusive neighbor's house is suddenly pushed aside. Noticing things comes naturally, and naturally we notice human beings. With few exceptions, humans make up the stories we write and to make our characters more 'real' we embue them with mannerisms and quirks. So, if I've ever borrowed a quirk from Great Aunt Minnie, mea culpa.
WERE YOU HAPPY THE WAY THAT HOLLYWOOD PRODUCED YOUR FIRST NOVEL, ‘BEAUTY’?
Actually, I was very pleased with the way CBS translated my book into film. So many times you hear of cinemutations, but in this case BEAUTY the movie was every bit as I had imagined BEAUTY the book. Janine Turner, Jamey Sheridan and Hal Holbrook fitted the characters so well, it couldn't have been done any better.The best part was that they ended the story exactly where I had ended the book originally--before my editor at the time wanted a 'less happy' ending. I felt incredibly validated. Thank you for that question!
ARE YOU STILL WRITING? ALSO KNOWN AS THE HOW'S THE WRITING GOING QUESTION.
That's sort of like asking if I'm still breathing. I do take time off now and then (from writing, not breathing) but as my tax return lists 'writer' as my profession, I don't take too much time off. Whether it's my column, The Last Word, in the Martha's Vineyard Times (firstname.lastname@example.org) or an email, I'm always writing something. Once I've finished a major project, e.g. a novel, I do like to rest my imagination for a little while. Even a finished book takes up my attention once the line edits are ready for me, it's never a very long break. Then something weird happens: story suggestions float into my mind. A phrase from a pop song, an observation, a chance meeting, a newspaper story and suddenly I testing the idea for potential.
I'm not sure I could ever stop writing, but sometimes it is nice to take a break.