Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Cheryl St.John: Behind the Book

Some of my favorite shows are the programs on how movies are made. Movie Magic is one, and there’s another on Bravo. And there are all those HBO specials. They always leave an impression. And I love the out takes.

Sometimes after seeing how over budget a production is, or the how the blue screen effects were done, I go see the movie just to see how it came out. Even if I don’t have the slightest interest in a movie in the first place, after I watch one of those programs, I have to see how all the special effects and the computer imaging and fake rain and snow and all that stuff came together into 90 minutes of near-perfect cinematography and sound and lighting. The process absolutely intrigues me.

Even seeing a movie first and then watching the how-to program fascinates me, but I’d rather know the behind the scenes first, for some reason. Then I can sit and pick out all the places where I know they did a particularly wonderful job—or had an especially difficult time.

I think one reason why that intrigues me so, is because everything that looks so polished and perfect in the finished product, was actually grueling, laborious, often times FRUSTRATING work behind the scenes.

I remember for example, in the making of Jurassic Park, every time that huge stegosaurus—the one that broke through the fence and came after the kids in the car—every time it got wet in the rain scenes, the mechanical parts stopped working. The crew would have to stop, dry it down, wait, and start over. Hours and hours and hours, and in some cases DAYS of painstaking work just getting a few perfect shots.

It’s not so unlike what we writers do. Other writers and all the readers see us with our good clothes on, our hair fixed, at meetings and conferences, at signings, with stacks of the glossy finished product in front of us.

How many hours of unglamorous work went into the finished product? I hate to even think how much I’ve made an hour on some of my projects, because when I think about it, the more difficult it is, the more time it takes. And the more time it takes, the less I’m making per hour. And I must tell you I don’t get up in the morning and slip into my pink ostrich-feather trimmed negligee or dictate to my personal secretary. Some days (and nights) I do my best writing in my jammies! Now there’s a picture for ya, eh?

Finished books can represent years. They also often represent other projects that fell by the wayside in between. Not every book that a writer proposes sells. I know a lot of authors who claim they sell about one out of every three stories they come up with.

A book takes anywhere from a few months to several months to complete. Some writers take a year or more. And those words don’t flow out of our brains in perfect order. Great scenes don’t just happen without plotting and planning and playing with dialogue. I usually write a story from beginning to end. I’m a very linear writer. But sometimes I have to go back and add things I belatedly realize are needed. Many authors write in layers, with dialogue first and then go back to add body language and setting. Others write scenes out of order and then connect them like a puzzle. It always amazes me how the process differs with each person—and with each book. I don’t write every book the same way. And then there’s the middle muddle, and all kinds of things that can get a writer off track.

I’ve never asked other writers about this, but most often my books leave an impression on me—an imprint of what was happening in my life at the time it was written, be it good or bad. I remember which book I was writing when something significant happened in my life. While we’re bringing characters to life, we’re simultaneously living life.

I think I can imagine what it’s like when the director, producer and crew of a movie watch the finished product for the first time. They remember how that scene came off beautifully after the boom was repaired or how amazing it is that a shot was edited to remove a dog that shouldn’t have been there. And then I imagine they look at the film with fresh eyes and marvel at how all the parts and players came together in a satisfying and rewarding piece of work.

That’s how a book feels, too. Satisfying and rewarding, even though I know all the things that happened behind the scenes. It’s still a delight to see a new book cover for the first time. When my author copies arrive, I open the box and touch them, open them, read the first few pages. Spotting my release among all the others at Wal-Mart or the grocery store never gets boring. HER COLORADO MANis in stores now, so I’m celebrating.

Seriously, how many people can work in their jammies?


Cheryl St.John said...

Thanks for inviting me to visit today!

Linda Henderson said...

I always think it's fascinating to read about how authors write. I will look forward to reading your book.

RachieG said...

Cheryl, gotta admit, I'm a little jealous. I'm at work now and I'm most definitely not in my Pj's. :(

Love your books, I've already told you numerous times, but I really enjoy them. Such a great thing you do :)

rachie2004 @ yahoo (d0t) com

Rebekah E. said...

Thanks for the great post. Your book sounds like a great read.

Mary said...

Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your world. :)

Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you for your post, Cheryl.

I not only write in my pajamas. I write with a big fat cat on my lap---purring away, pawing me, and once in a while demanding that I play with her. Yet somehow I've mastered the art of typing this way, even if my posture is a bit eccentric. Mavis Beacon would never approve!

Virginia said...

Congrats on your new release!

Cheryl St.John said...

Thanks for visiting today!

suehussein said...

Interesting post!! I love the old picture you put up!! I've read so many times where authors say they miss the people they were writing about, they were like family after awhile. Bet that happens the most in series writing. Thanks, Sue

penney said...

I enjoy reading about authors and how they got started writing. Great blog today thanks for being here.

Terrie said...

Great inteview... I am still reading the latest book of yours.

Michele L. said...

Hi Cheryl!

Love having you here! I really enjoyed reading your post with that famous wit of yours in it!

Congratulations on your fantastic new book!