People, Places, Things– What inspires you as a writer?

People, Places, Things– What inspires you as a writer?

March has brought me some tough weather, health, and finances, but it’s also been filled with inspiration for me as a writer. As the month draws to a close, I want to honor the person, the place, and the things that most inspired me this month. I hope you’ll share, too.

The person: When the first Lakeside Porches book Stepping Up To Love is published this August, its dedication will be “to our inspirational friend John…”. John is an old ski buddy of ours who turned 91 a few months ago. Over the past two years he researched an exceptional woman athlete and prepare a formal nomination for her to the Women’s Hall of Fame. The winners were just announced, and John’s nominee Julie Krone will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this fall. How does that inspire me as a writer? John inspired the entire Lakeside Porches series; as we enjoyed his 90th birthday brunch on the sunny porch at Belhurst Castle, I watched the staff fuss over him and make sure he enjoyed himself (oh, yes, he did!), and I sensed in my writer’s soul that there were heartwarming, passionate stories among the staff and guests at a place like the Belhurst. The concept for Lakeside Porches was born that sunny January day. John follows his curiosity, and I follow my writing muse.

angel-holycrossThe place: Early this March, when work seemed overwhelming and winter seemed never-ending, a friend from work filled a pause in the conversation with, “And I’m going on a silent retreat in a couple of weeks.” I pumped her for information and ended up going with her to Holy Cross Monastery on the Hudson (http://www.holycrossmonastery.com/). From March 19-22 we retreatants engaged in total silence, broken only by chanting and prayer at three daily services (Matins, Eucharist, and Vespers) at this Anglican Benedictine monastery. I went with the question, “So what am I really supposed to be doing now and for the rest of my life?” Pretty quickly, the universe assured me I’m on the right track by working and writing… and gradually shifting the balance from mostly work (a year ago) to mostly writing (a few years from now). I relaxed right into that and wrote my little fingers off (okay, I don’t use a pencil, I keyboard 99% of what I write). In fact, thanks to the quiet and inspiration of the retreat, I’m now working the last chapter of Book Two of the Lakeside Porches (Coming Home to Love, Justin and Gianessa’s story, begun last summer in the Berkshires). Check out my Facebook Author page for more pictures (FB: Katie.OBoyle.Author).

snowdropsThe things: I love all the little signs of spring! Sure there’s still snow on the ground, and it is gray, gravel-encrusted snow at that. But the snowdrops are blossoming, the birds are pairing off (see Stepping Up To Love hero Joel Cushman’s Twitter Feed @TompkinsFalls). OMG– two pileated woodpeckers, red crowns bursting out of the top of their heads, whoop-whooping as they chased each other through the trees all over campus this week! (see gabku’s photo) The miracle of creation is back with us. Hearts are turning to love and romance. Spring, like hope, will not be denied, so matter how gray the snow looks. The romance genre for me is filled with hope, creation, and happy endings, regardless of how tough things get from time to time. We make our own happiness, and this time of year I draw on all the little signs of spring to bring a smile to my face and to my heart.

What inspires you as a writer? A person? A place? A thing?

Staying true to your book

What would you do?

You’ve finished the book, asked a variety of test readers to give you feedback, and made changes based on their feedback. You love this book, its characters, and its message. You submit the manuscript, as requested, knowing that it will be assigned an editor. You wait and wait and finally the edits arrive in your inbox.

By page two you realize the editor has misread your book, viewing it through the lens of a belief system that is apparently at odds with your message. Of all the things you anticipated, this wasn’t one of them. Not only does the editor object to the way you’ve handled sensitive situations, he wants you to rewrite the book to bring it in line with his passionate viewpoint. It’s almost as if you’re bringing a Jewish perspective to situations, and now you’re expected to rewrite your book from a Catholic perspective. Yikes!

Okay, let’s make it even harder: You’re a brand new author and this is your first book. And you have no option to request another editor.

So, what would you do?

I won’t share all the curses, prayers, foot stomps, phone calls to friends, double-checks with test readers, and obsessive cleaning sprees, but you can imagine how my kitchen shone for the ten days of this editing ordeal!

Here’s what I did in response to the editor’s input:

To begin on a positive note, I separated the edits that were craft-related from those that were ideology-related. I looked at the merits of the craft-related edits and saw that most of them definitely improved the quality of the writing and the effectiveness of the book for my target audience. It felt good to see that in some ways the editor was on my side; I made those changes and took time to reflect on how the tips and techniques would benefit me as I moved forward in my writing career.

Buoyed by that little success, I moved on to the comments that arose from the tricky professional lens the editor wore when he picked up my book. Were any of the comments valid relative to my story? Very few, I thought. I decided to incorporate those few changes by working them into the character arcs of the hero and heroine the best I could. That done, I gave myself a pat on the back for staying true to my book and moved ahead.

Next, I looked at the really troublesome comments that did not fit with the nature or intent of my book. Ultimately I had to ask myself if my characters’ motivations were clear to my reader? How about the hero’s thinking and the heroine’s responses and the villain’s villainy? Did the editor misread them and judge them anathema because of his particular lens or because of my sloppy writing? Probably some of each, I decided.

I did a complete review of the book looking specifically at how I represented motivation through action and dialog. Also, where had I muddied the water or gotten preachy or danced around an issue or failed to connect the dots in a character’s arc? That analysis taught me a lot. I set about clarifying why my characters thought and behaved as they did, particularly in those sensitive situations that the editor dissed. And I made changes accordingly– not to embrace the editor’s view– but to clarify and improve my story.

That done, I adjusted things like the final word count of the manuscript (which had crept past the 80,000 word mark), scrolled through to be sure all the changes and comments had been addressed, spell-checked one more time, saved it, backed it up–twice– and sent it. And I sent a separate letter to the person who had originally bought my book and signed the contract with me; I won’t share that here.

And I love this book. Will my edits be accepted? Will my book be published? I don’t know.

I’m curious what other authors have done or would do in a similar situation. I hope you’ll share your comments.