Before I became a full time mystery author, I had a notion of what my dream office might look like. It would a technological marvel, of course, but set in an oak paneled study complete with roaring fireplace, ample bookcases, and a couple of fine-boned hounds lolling at my feet.
Well, I’ve got the hounds anyway. Two sweet and wrinkled Shar-Peis, who come bounding in to slobber me with kisses whenever they feel like it.
But my office doesn’t exude quite the baronial splendor I’d originally pictured. Basically, my desk is a large typing table that holds a computer. There used to be two computers, but my husband finally took pity on me and trashed the one that had long since whimpered and died. There are also boxes of books all over the floor, a narrow bookshelf piled high with dog-eared papers, and a printer sitting on an old dresser that never quite fit into our bedroom. Crazy, huh?
Well, yes and no. I like it a little crazy because it keeps me humble. My office has become a strict reminder that this is the place where I make my living and do some serious writing. And until I write my mandatory 20 pages per week, those piles of papers are not going to get picked up.
This is a system that, believe it or not, works rather well for me. In fact, I manage to write three books a year in this crazy, cluttered environment. Would I get that much work done in my fancy dream office? Hmm. Doubtful.
But write I do, pounding out as many words as I can with a writing philosophy that bears a striking resemblance to the Nike slogan, Just Do It.
Because . . . I just do it. It’s as simple as that. No feng shui, burning of sage or wishful thinking. When I set out to write a new book, I run a few “what ifs” through my brain and try to get an interesting murder scenario to lodge in my hard drive. When it does (and, knock on wood, it always does) I noodle my concept around for a few days and try to puzzle out an interesting story. Then I develop an outline/timeline, create a 50-page synopsis, and start chipping away at the writing.
When it comes to developing characters, they pretty much pop into my brain in a remarkably well-formed fashion. People always ask if I do index cards or plan intricate bios, but I can’t imagine doing anything quite that studied. To me writing is about intuition and gut instinct – you’ve got to sit back, trust your inner writing instincts, and let your characters speak to you. Luckily, my characters always seem to be buzzing around inside my head like people in a crowded elevator. My job is to pry open the doors so they can elbow their way out.
I also believe in doing research while I’m writing. I know that many authors do their research ahead of time - they spend weeks researching and cataloguing facts. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I’m far too impatient for all that. For example, with my newest Tea Shop Mystery, Scones & Bones, I needed to pull up information on jolly roger flags, East Coast shipwrecks, and the pirate Blackbeard. So I ran a few Google searches, pulled up a few pages of key information, then plugged the data into my manuscript and plowed ahead. That way I can maintain my pace and keep my storyline humming.
Probably, the number one question I get asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” The truth of the matter is, ideas come from the imagination. And one’s imagination is about 80 percent gifted to you through DNA and 20 percent compliments of your life experiences – the good and the bad.
The other question I get asked is “What advice can you offer a would-be author? My reply always runs pretty much along the same lines. And that is, try to be very, very original. Publishers are exceedingly picky these days and are getting even more irritable given the tough economy. You have to sort of dazzle them with a story or characters they haven’t encountered before. Also, there’s this crazy a-b-c-d-e thing you might want to follow. Action, believability, conflict, description, and emotion. If your can shoehorn each one of these elements into every single chapter, chances are you’ll probably end up with something worth publishing! Good luck!
Laura Childs is the author of 12 Tea Shop Mysteries, 8 Scrapbook Mysteries, and 3 Cackleberry Club Mysteries. She has made the New York Times Bestseller List 6 times in the last 25 months.