Thursday, August 21, 2008
Writers in their own words-GCC
I'm pleased to be able to introduce all of you to one of my GCC buddies, Ellen Meister author of the just-released The Smart One.
Ellen has a knack for writing funny, smart novels that capture the suburban-mom life so many of us are living--okay, so maybe we don't all find dead bodies in yards next door--but you know what I mean.
Here's a brief description:
Beverly Bloomrosen has always been the smart one, the middle sister sandwiched between Clare, the beautiful and popular older one, and Joey, the rebellious rock-star younger one. But she’s hit a bit of a slump lately. Now 35, she’s embarking on a new career as an elementary school teacher and not exactly living up to her family’s expectations (“Maybe she can work her way up and eventually teach high school. That wouldn’t be so bad,” her mother helpfully comments). Bev has moved back into her parents' home on Long Island while waiting to see if a job opportunity in Las Vegas materializes, seeing it as her chance to start afresh…but before she knows it, life back at home starts to get very interesting.
So now, let's hear from Ellen in her own words:
1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?
It's about 50-50 for me. I usually have some idea I want to explore about a character or a relationship. But at the same time there are always a few plot ideas rattling around in my skull. The concept for a novel takes shape when a character idea and a plot idea meet and fall in love.
For THE SMART ONE, the inspiration hit me from several different directions. I always wanted to write a sister story because that relationship intrigues me. In particular, I wanted to explore the ways in which our childhood labels impact our adult lives.
The other big inspiration was a news story that happened right in my home town. A man moving out of his home opened a sealed 55-gallon industrial drum that had been in a crawl space since he moved in ... only to discover a mummified body inside. It was a young woman, nine months pregnant, who had been killed thirty years before. After she was identified as a factory employee of home's original owner, who had since retired, the detectives went to Florida to question him. They wanted to get a sample of his DNA to test against the fetus's, but before they could serve a warrant for it, the man shot and killed himself.
This happened so close to home that it captured my imagination and wouldn't let go. How could something like this happen in an ordinary suburban home in an ordinary suburban town? How did the killer keep his secret for so long? And how did it affect the people around him?
Of course, I had no intention of writing a true crime story, so I simply used this macabre event as the inspiration for a discovery made by my three adult sister characters ... and it became the catalyst that drives the arc of their relationship.
2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
I know this sounds like a hedge, but I love all my characters. For me, an author's affection for his or her characters--and all their flaws--is what makes a book truly memorable. So I always aim for that.
3.) What's your writing process like?
People often ask me if I outline my novels or have a more organic approach, and it really tends to be a combination of the two. I start out by thinking about the idea for a long time, and then I make notes. In the beginning they're very stream-of-consciousness-just random thoughts about my characters and story. Then a plot begins to emerge, and I start a rough outline. Before too long, though, I have to try my hand at a couple of chapters to get an idea of the voice and pacing, so I can figure out just how much story I'll need to fill a book. After that I go back and finish the outline ... which winds up being a very fluid document that I change as I go along.
4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
When I go out on a limb and take a risk and it pays off. What a rush!
5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Write the story you most want to read!