When I was a young reader, I wanted to live in a book and be friends with the characters. Books were much more interesting and exciting than real life, and the characters were so intelligent, witty, and well educated (especially those by my favorite writer, Mary Stewart) that I wanted to grow up and be just as smart and well educated as they were. The people in books always seemed to be quoting poetry, and referred to arcane, fascinating facts that I assumed all adults knew, and that someday I wanted to know too.
It was quite a disappointment to learn that in real life guys didn’t go around quoting classical poetry to girls in order to woo them, like Stewart’s heroes did. Oh well, life is full of disappointments.
Still, I wanted nothing more than to write books too. My highest dream was to someday see my books on the library shelves next to the ones I loved so much, and I never doubted that would happen. As a sixth grader, I discovered my mother’s old (non-electric) typewriter, and banged on the keys for hours, turning out stories that were all of, oh, ten pages long, set in periods of history I knew nothing about. I figured if it’s fiction, you’re allowed to make everything up, right?
Fabulous scenes involving my characters swirled through my mind when daydreaming in class (which was most of the time), or later, when I was standing in line at the grocery store, pumping gas, or driving down the freeway. To my dismay, however, novels did not pour out as easily as I’d expected. I got stuck on writing and rewriting individual scenes, which were never as good as when they were in my mind, and work and family ate up the rest of my time. I never seemed able to finish anything.
Not until I took a UCLA screenwriting class did I finally break through that barrier. My wonderful teacher, Erica Byrne, taught me the basics of plot that I had never bothered to learn, since the characters and their interactions with each other were what interested me most. Belatedly, I learned a very basic storytelling truth: if the characters don’t have a goal, then there is no story.
Another giant step forward was when I learned that writing need not be a solitary profession. Writers, while often introverted, can also be very warm, social, and helpful, and there are many wonderful writers’ organizations. These’ groups not only brought me many new friends, but taught me more writing skills, including building tension into a story (thank you, Bryson Kilmer!).
Today I spend an hour or two every night at a desk in my study working on one of my latest stories. I don’t live in a book, but I do live in a library of my favorites: children’s books, history books, novels, and the entire oeuvre of Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Peters.
I get bored easily, so when I tire of one story, I work on another. Usually, I’m writing about three books at a time, in different genres. (By the way, I do not recommend this for others!)
Another important step in my writing process is meeting with critique groups two or three times a month. We discuss what we’ve written since our last meeting, and those discussions can be lively and frank, with lots of laughter. I always think not a single word of my pages could be improved, then, a few hours later, head home with suggestions large and small that always make them better.
After making edits, I send the finished story to several beta readers, most of whom are not writers themselves, but friends who are avid readers. They catch mistakes and contradictions, and make useful comments. Then, when the book is finally complete, I contact my cover artist, Tatiana Vila, and give her some ideas about the cover. She works her magic, and then my book then appears for sale on Amazon Books as an ebook and print on demand.