Dealing with the loss of my characters

Readers feel this.  You’ve been engrossed in a book for however long it takes to read it and then, suddenly, the characters are gone.  You write me asking what they’ll do now and whether they’ll ever be back. But if you miss them, think of what I’m feeling when I finish writing a book.

Take Sweet Salt Air.  I’ve been living with Charlotte and Nicole and Leo and his dog Bear for a year and a half, so finishing the writing and having to let them go is bittersweet for me, too.

Which is why I usually start thinking of the next book even before the last one is done.  It’s a defense mechanism, a protection against loss.  Am I abandoning my characters?  Absolutely not.  I’m dovetailing.  The old characters stay with me; they simply ease slowly into the shadows as, increasingly, new characters come to life.

There’s another reason why I move right into the next book.  Writing is part of my life.  It’s what I do when I’m driving around in the car or when I wake up at night or when I’m here at my computer facing a blank screen.

I also have a contract that gives a date when my next book is due to be finished and submitted. And, by contract, I have to put together an outline of the next book for approval prior to the writing.

I finished the original draft of Sweet Salt Air in June, finished the revisions my editor suggested in September.  I’ve been plotting since then, going back and forth with ideas, playing the old What If game, which is how I flesh out a plot.  What if Caroline is a TV anchor – no, an actress – no, a carpenter?  What if her boss is her own son – no, her daughter – no, her daughter who isn’t her boss but her rival?

When I get flashes of images, I write them down.  Sometimes those flashes are of an opener, sometimes a closer, sometimes a pivotal love scene – or, yum, a sex scene.

So here’s the image I’m working with.  It’s an opener.  My main character, Caroline, is sitting on the porch of her charming Victorian home (hence the picture above).  It’s a warm day, promising to be a scorcher, but the ceiling fan is whirring softly, stirring up the scent of lilacs in bloom, and she’s holding a tall glass of iced tea.  Her bare feet are on the porch railing.  She’s basking in the success of a finished project, when the daughter she adores arrives with bad news.

Where would you go from there?  Don’t have enough info yet?  No.  But I do.  I’ve been living with these characters for a while now, and not only Caroline, but her daughter Jamie and her co-worker Dean and the head of the business, Roy Sr., who is the father of the man Caroline used to be married to.  Ahh, it does get complicated.

I’ve now put together nine single-spaced pages, describing the general plot, the central characters, the story’s progression.  I’ve identified the themes, the setting, the reason why I think you all will like this book.  At this stage, my job is to sell the idea to my publisher, which I would have done in early November if Sandy hadn’t postponed that trip to New York.  We’ve rescheduled for next Monday, at which time I’ll sit down to discuss the book with my editor even before she’s seen the pages. If she has questions, I want to be able to answer them there and then.

Nope.  No title yet.  That’s a marketing tool, so I let my publisher pick it.  Right now, I only see the trees.  They’re the ones who see the forest.

I will tell you this.  The book is a mother-daughter story that deals with sensuality and creativity and love.  Sound okay?

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14 Comments

  1. Avatar melissa on November 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    It does, it does!! It’s a relief to your readers to know, when we finish READING your books, that there is almost certainly another one coming before too long 🙂 Can’t wait! (and of course have preordered SSA!)

  2. Avatar Dianne on November 30, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Sounds fantastic!

  3. Avatar Carin Buckman on November 30, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Yippee! And i know you”ll weave some kind of social/political relevance in there somewhere – you always do!

  4. Avatar Kathleen Efflandt on November 30, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Sounds Fabulous!! I can’t wait for it! I love the explanation of how you’re forming ideas for your next project even before the present one is finished. It makes lot’s of sense. Personally, I’m glad that’s how you cope with the loss of charecters. It means I always have something to look foreward to!!

  5. Avatar Diane Oliver on November 30, 2012 at 9:19 am

    I was raised in a similar home in Connecticut … all loving memories! You are NUMBER ONE in my book… keep the coming.

  6. Avatar JD in Canada on November 30, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Already drooling… so eager to read this, I can barely stand the suspense… you are amazing and so gifted. Thank you for blessing us with your gift!

  7. Avatar Jane Cottrell on November 30, 2012 at 9:48 am

    OH I can’t wait! Very much looking forward to Sweet Salt Air! You are right about loss of characters Barbara. I go back to Lake News and The Accidental Woman as I found I could relate to and understand those characters. And of course the setting in NH. Anyway, thank you for keeping us posted and giving us more characters to look forward to! 🙂

    Jane

  8. Avatar Lorraine Thacker on November 30, 2012 at 11:00 am

    It’s sounds like a very interesting start….now where do we go from here? Guess we have to wait to find out, and we haven’t even read SSA yet.
    Your stories are always interesting, you’re one of my favorite authors for learning about different lifestyles. I almost always come away feeling like I’ve learned something new and that can’t be said for many. Entertaining, but not necessarily educaitonal opportunities.

  9. Avatar Susan Roefaro on November 30, 2012 at 11:01 am

    I read a lot of your books, I just finished reading ” More Than Friends ” which I picked up ar an antique shop, I saw the author and said this is good I have to buy it and read it. I was unable to put it down, had it read in no time, now I wonder what is going to happen to the Popewell’s I hope there is more to come. Your an amazing writer with a great imagination may God Bless you and please keep writing we look forward to your books. Thank You for sharing your dream with your readers and fans.

  10. Avatar Tammie on November 30, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Yes I do think it sounds very interesting. I look forward to another new book. After I read one of your books I ask myself what is each of the characters doing now. I find myself wondering about this for a few days. Its like when you read about them they become part of your life and you want more. I love reading and its due to great Authors that we have this opportunity to read such wonderful writing. Thanks again!

  11. Avatar Pat Puckett on November 30, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I’m sure it will be a great story, as usual. I want to live in this house, sit on this porch on a swing, and while away a summer day with one of your books. I can almost smell the lilacs myself, just from your brief description! Good luck with your book!

  12. Avatar Alana on November 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    As usual you have me hooked, most times the opening paragraph is all I need with your books I can’t wait for it to be ready to purchase, however we will gave to be content with “Sweet Salt Air’ for the time being. And that house is to die for, I would live in it given half the chance.

  13. Avatar Sara Gerhold on November 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    You have never written a book that I didn’t enjoy, and learn something. I look forward to your books, and occasionally wish you could write as fast as I read.

  14. Avatar Marie Ellen Logie on December 11, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Barbara – you are right…….I love the “New” book already…..It must be so hard to complete a book, as you do, spending all the time from the beginning to finish with all the characters and then —– BAM! the book is published….. I feel like that after I have finished reading a book, and loving the book….I DON’T WANT IT TO END…..I feel like part of the family; especially so with your books, Barbara…..I just can’t wait for “Sweet Salt Air” to come out – it should be around the time I have my knee replacement surgery…..so I am really excited about having this long-awaited new novel….. You are an amazing lady……with wonderful thoughts spinning around in that beautiful head of yours…..Thank God we have Barbara in our lives…..God Bless! Marie

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