How long have you been writing?
It feels as if I just got started on this career. I’m always a little bit surprised by my answer to this question: it’s almost 30 years. Honestly, I don’t know how that’s possible being as young as I am! That’s certainly the upside of a career you love. Time flies.
What’s your ideal writing day like?
Hmmm…let’s see. The perfect writing day. Well, first of all, I’ll be in a place where I can hear the waves washing along the sand and warm breezes rustling through coconut palms or evergreen trees. Then I’ll wake up early, go for a nice morning run along the beach, and come home ready to get to work. My very favorite thing is to sit in a lawn chair on my deck, notepad in hand, and lose myself in the story. It doesn’t happen every day — or even often — but when it does, it’s pure magic. And the perfect writing day.
How long does it take you to write a book?
For the most part, each of my books has taken a year. Some — notably The Nightingale, Firefly Lane and On Mystic Lake — have taken up to two years. Generally, I spend about three months coming up with idea, researching it, and formulating a loose plan for the spine of the story and the character arcs. After a few months of research, the writing of the first draft — if I’m lucky — is about five months. This usually entails several “wrong” starts and do-overs. The final process of taking that draft and turning it into the novel I’d envisioned takes between four and six months. Normally, I do about ten drafts of the book.
Do you miss practicing law?
Wait. I have to stop laughing. I can’t see the computer keys. No. I don’t miss it. I loved the law, but writing is the best career on the planet for me. I’m truly blessed. I can’t imagine having to wear heels to work again. I’d probably fall flat on my face.
Why do you write?
Quite simply, I write because it frees something in me. It’s the greatest job in the world. It allows me to be the wife/mother/friend I want to be, with plenty of time for the people I care about, while still giving me something that’s mine, something that defines me as an individual.
What’s a typical day like for you?
The great thing about being a writer is that there really is no typical day. When my son was home, my writing schedule was pretty much subject to the local school schedule. For years, I wrote school hours, school days, school months. It gave me a lovely, if inflexible, routine. Nowadays, though, I’m much more of a gypsy with a pen and paper. My ordinary day begins with a three or four mile run — preferably along a stretch of sunny beach — then it’s back home to get started. I’ll write fairly solidly until about five o’clock. There are certainly breaks taken along the way — lunch, phone calls with girlfriends, and checking my email. At the end of the day, I try to spend at least an hour outside, sitting on my deck and relaxing. Now, of course, I’m supposed to fit blogging into all of that. Wish me luck!
How do you know when a book is over?
I’m exhausted. Or my deadline is looming. Or I have a migraine that lasts for two days. The truth is, a book never really feels “done.” I wish it did. What’s more likely is that my deadline is approaching and I’ve simply run out of time. Thankfully, I’m a disciplined writer. I actually start my books on time; no more than two weeks after the previous effort is finished. The stress of being “behind” is really not something I’d good with, so I stay on schedule.
Do you always know the whole story, including the ending, when you begin?
I think I do. On occasion, I even turn out to be correct. Because my books are more character than plot driven, the end of my novels is wholly dependent on the characters’ arcs and growth patterns. When I was a beginning writer, I followed a strict, twenty-page outline and lengthy character biographies. I spent a lot of my research time creating characters; then I moved them through the plot as I’d conceived it. In the end, I found that this hampered my creativity somewhat and began, as I moved into the bigger, more complex books, to require more editing. So, I let go. Now I spend more of my time discovering my characters. Although it creates a lot of missteps and wrong starts and endless drafts, I find that I enjoy the process more.
Do you have a favorite character in your own novels?
Honestly, I have a couple of characters that stay in my mind after the writing is over. They are, in no particular order — Izzy from On Mystic Lake, Alice from Magic Hour, Tully from Firefly Lane, and Anya Whitson from Winter Garden. But at the moment my very favorite character is the protagonist from the novel I’m currently writing. She may be my favorite character of all time. We’ll see.
How do you recommend new writers get started?
This is a question that I get asked a lot, of course. The easiest and most obvious answer is also the most difficult to accomplish: it’s to sit down and keep writing. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of writers come and go — published and unpublished — and what I’ve learned is that the ones who make it keep writing no matter what. When life is tough, they write; when the kids are sick, they write; when rejections pile up, they write. Are you seeing a pattern? That’s really what this career is ultimately about. Showing up at your computer day after day to hone your craft. Of course you should take classes and read other peoples’ books and study as much as you can, but none of it can ever take the place of daily work.