I’m incubating …
Incubating. What does that mean, someone recently asked. This person had first asked if I was taking a break, now that my new book is finished and in production. Lord, no, I said. Writing is what I do. It’s what I think about when I’m up the creek without a paddle – e.g., in the dentist’s waiting room, in the supermarket checkout line, or lying awake at two in the morning worrying about nuclear war. Writing keeps me sane.
Not to mention the fact that I already have a contract for my next book, which is a sure thing for enforcing inspiration.
Right now, it’s about incubating. Those plots you love to read have to be dreamed up, fleshed out, and woven together. First, though, there’s the nitty gritty.
Location. This is generally the easiest for me, so I pick it first. New England is my place. But I work backward to see where in New England I haven’t taken you in a while. My newest book (pub 6.26.18 and title/cover reveal next week) is set in Vermont. The one before that, Blueprints, is set in suburban Boston, Sweet Salt Air on an island in Maine, Escape in New Hampshire. For this new setting, it’s also about where I want to spend the next eighteen months. My current answer is the Rhode Island shore, where, coincidentally, I’ve been spending more time myself – as per the photo above, which I took last April in Westerly.
Theme. Sometimes this comes from my choice of location. Think ocean, and I think grains of sand, timelessness, and generational continuity. I think of the way life shapes each of us to be unique, like those ever-tumbling, ever-different grains of sand. Or the way life mellows us, like the ocean smoothing the edges of sea glass. Alternately, I may choose a theme that is current and captivating. Political issues come to mind – though I cannot write about those. Not what my readers want. Not keeping me sane. I have several themes in mind for this new book, but the final choice is still up in the air.
Names. I spend a ton of time choosing them – for the main characters, at least – and it’s fun. Names have to fit the story and the setting. They have to fit the history of the characters’ families. I use telephone books and obituaries. I check government lists for the year a character is born. I’m big on the rhythm of names, so I say them aloud – first, last, and nicknames – and pair them with other major names in the story to make sure they flow. Sometimes a name just clicks as one I want to write about. I’ve chosen ones for the women in this book, a set of triplets, two of whom are identical, one not (it does happen biologically, totally aside from the way it did on This Is Us, which I adore). I’m working with Morgan, Ashley, and Olivia Aldiss, Olivia being the main voice. I’ve had more trouble naming my male protagonist, stuggling for one that is strong but not soap-opera chic. I was leaning toward Thomas, then ran that, Nathaniel, and Colby past my Facebook followers, who overwhelmingly chose Nathaniel. My editor wasn’t wild about that one. So it may be Nathaniel. Or Calvin. Calvin’s been resonating with me of late. Calvin MacKay, Calvin LeVeque, Calvin Duran. Calvin MacAllister.
Occupation. What works with the location? What works with the theme and with these particular characters, as their lives start to take shape in my mind? What works for me – i.e., what interests me? What do I know? What don’t I know? What can I learn? Right now, I’m seeing my male protagonist as a veterinarian, which is the last thing his family would have chosen but which gives him the unconditional love they never did. My female protagonist, Olivia, mother of a bookish ten-year-old son, may be a psychotherapist, though that’s still up for grabs. Whatever, my characters’ occupations have to work with the plot vehicle.
Aha. Plot vehicle. This is crucial. If I want my book to be a page turner, I need a vehicle that will take readers from start to finish without more than a two-minute stop. In recent books, I’ve worked with a current issue, such as computer hacking in my June 2018 book or ageism in Blueprints – or with a timeless one, such as health crises in Sweet Salt Air and While My Sister Sleeps. As you probably sense, I haven’t settled on one for this next book. But I’m working on it. This is what I think about most when I’m up aforesaid creek without a paddle.
Okay. Next comes the opening scene. Dreaming this up – actually writing it – gets me in the mood. But it isn’t a frivolous exercise. The opening pages are my very first sales tool. It’s what everyone reads first – not only you readers, but well before that, my publisher and her team, who need to be excited enough about a book to aggressively market and sell it.
Ideally, I also dream up the closing scene. Yup, I try to do that now, before I’ve even begun to write the book. It’s like climbing a mountain, needing to see that peak at the end of the trek.
So that’s what I’m doing as you all wait for the next book. I’m incubating.
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I can’t wait for the next book to come out!
Thus summer my daughter took me on a trip to Newport as an early 70th birthday gift. We absolutely loved it!!! The place was great, beautiful, friendly. Of course, we loved the mansions, but we also enjoyed the vibe of the town. I find it very interesting to hear about your creative process. I think it is a fantastic gift to be able to create the characters and weave the story. Blessings to you.
As will soooo many~~ we do SO look forward to the ”birth” of your newest work. What I enjoy from all of your books I have that I KNOW I WILL re~read them. Also I know it WILL be worth the wait!!
I think Calvin MacAllister sounds too much like Kevin McAllister from “Home Alone”….just sayin’. I like Calvin LeVeque . I love the three girls’ names.
Love the seashore setting. I think a theme could be something about a death in the family…..of the matriarch of the family and how it affects each girl. It’s so common that families fall apart once the head of the family dies. It happened in my family as well as my husband’s. The glue that once held our families together dissolved thus leading to major changes in attitudes, opinions, life styles and togetherness. Just a thought. Cant wait to read your next book.
OOOOH … laughing here. I LIKE Calvin MacAllister. I think it “rolls trippingly off the tongue”. But you are right … it is very close to Kevin MacAllister!
I always love a Rhode Island setting…then again, I live here so I am more than a wee bit partial!
Just very anxious for your next book – I read them as soon as they come out in hardcover, so I have been missing you!!
Nathaniel is strong and powerful
Sometimes wish editors would leave authors to do what they do best!
One of your commenters just turned 70! I am there today! Hard to beieve!!
Happy Birthday, Brenda! I do feel your joy. We are blessed, are we not?
It’s so nice to get some insight into your writing process.
Olivia Aldiss and her ten year old son remind me of Olivia and Tess Jones from your book – The Vineyard. It is one of my favourite books.
I would also pick Nathaniel for the male protagonist.
Keep rocking, ma’am!
When will I see a new book from you? It’s been quite a while.
Next June 26. BEFORE AND AGAIN. Check here, or on Facebook or Instagram for all the details in the coming months.
Ohh I love your books and so enjoyed reading about your writing process. Can’t wait for the next book!!
My daughter, who is seeking a writing position, and recently returned from Ireland, suggests the male lead’s name in your new novel would be Brandon. She loved your blog “incubating”.
Brandon. Good name! I’ve already started writing using Calvin, and the characters has grown into his name, as children always do, so far be it from me to change it now. But there will be other male characters needing names. I’ll try to get a Brandon in there. Please tell your daughter, and wish her the very best from me with both her return from Ireland and her writing.