Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Susan Crandall: What Happens at the Beach House…

…luckily for our readers, does not stay at the beach house, despite our pledge to the contrary.  I just came home from my annual writer’s retreat with Karen White (SEA CHANGE and THE BEACH TREES) and Wendy Wax (OCEAN BEACH and TEN BEACH ROAD).  You see the trend here, I’m the only one not writing about a beach, but they let me come anyway.

I look forward to this week every year and yet have little photographic evidence of it, due to our pledge that our retreat is a camera-free zone.  All of those days spent makeup-less and messy-haired, wearing our favorite ratty writing wear while we brainstorm, talk through revisions and meet frantic deadlines—and yes, share a few bottles of wine.  Throughout the year, we do have three-way telephone conversations to work on the details of our novels (sometime while drinking a glass of wine).  But there’s nothing like getting up the instant I have a plot or characterization problem that has no solution in the known universe and wandering in from the screened porch to interrupt another writer who is thrilled to stop dead in the middle of her work and focus on solving my problem, the answer to which is instantly and brilliantly clear.  Amazingly the reverse is also true, I always can shoot right to the heart of the issues with which they’re struggling.  Forest and trees, I believe.  And more valuable than gold.

The stark fact is, no matter how great and amazing a book turns out, there’s a whole lot of head banging that goes on in order to get it there.  My agent said the book I just turned in (WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD, Gallery Books / Simon & Schuster, June 2013) read as if I’d simply sat down on my screened porch one afternoon and spun this seamless tale.  I wish!  The main characters in this book had been speaking to me for months before I began to write.  The writing itself took just over a full year.  And once I started, the book did not become the one of my vision—it became so much more.  I’m so glad I allowed myself to ride this wave, rather than wrestle and hammer this story into what I’d originally planned.  The support and encouragement of my critique partners gave me the courage to take that leap into the unknown.

WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD began as a child-in-jeopardy story, but evolved into a coming of age adventure set against the backdrop of the segregated South in 1963. A broken and downtrodden woman, Eula, and my feisty nine-year-old heroine, Starla, discover truths about themselves, as well as the world around them as they make a risky journey to find Starla’s mother.  The choices I made while writing this book were difficult and deliberate—and in the end very rewarding.  Writing this book in Starla’s nine-going-on-ten-year-old point of view made for some challenges, but also offered for the purity of a child’s perspective as she opens her eyes to the realities of not only her world, but of the larger world around her.  It also offered plenty of opportunities for humor, as well as deeply poignant scenes.   In the end, this turned out to be a truly special book, not only in the finished product, but because it brought back to me why I love writing…the process.

This will be my tenth published novel.  To veer away from what’s been working thus far can be dangerous to a career – or it could launch it to the heavens.  Thanks to those folks who gave me the nudge when I needed it, to those who pointed out the uniqueness and the potential of this story, to those (including Karen and Wendy) who encouraged me to follow the creative road that presented itself, no matter where it led.

I think we all need “cheerleaders” in our lives, as well as our creative processes.  Those to assure us that without risk, mediocrity might reign, brilliance might go undiscovered, and special joys might never be found.  I’m trying to take this lesson into my life, to take the time to explore when it would be more prudent to keep pushing forward; to prescribe to the idea that the journey is truly more important than the destination.

What is your philosophy: destination, or journey?  Risk or steady reward?
Do you have “cheerleaders” who bolster your bravery, encourage you to follow that vision in your heart? 
Leave a comment for a chance to win.  I’ll be giving away two books to a single winner: SLEEP NO MORE (paperback) and ON BLUE FALLS POND (hardcover). 

Susan Crandall

***Susan's winner is Lory Lee!  Please email with your mailing information!***


Mary Preston said...

I enjoy the journey as well as the destination. I am most certainly not a risk taker at all. The steady reward sounds like me though.

For a writer I can see the possible benefits of risk taking. I like stories that stand out & are fresh & unique.

Scarlet Wilson said...

I'm a definite planner. times, deadlines, children, work, school. I just couldn't function any other way. My cheerleaders are my fellow writers, time spent with them seems to fly past - and no, it's not the wine! Well, maybe only a little!

Eli Yanti said...

for me destination then journey, steady reward and i have my family and my friend that always encourage :)

petite said...

The journey is always interesting since it leads to the destination. The steady reward is the objective from planning. Cheerleaders abounds in my life and are always steady.

Lory Lee said...

My everyday journey becomes more meaningful and joyful with the help of my cheerleaders (my 2sisters, 3 nieces, my cat, my dog,my 5 brothers and my parents) Doesn't matter if I take risk that much, at least, I can proudly say that "I did it" instead of cowering behind and regret that I didn't at least took a chance. :D

Susan Crandall said...

Interesting trend here. I love hearing about your personal cheerleaders. I appreciate a planner, believe me. However, when I've tried to make myself follow a plan when it comes to my writing, nothing creative seems to happen. I'm a totally a seat of the pants writer and have come to accept it. Makes for lots of surprises in the process ... although not all of them good. :-)

8:53 AM

Kathleen O said...

I have had many journeys in my life and i am still not at the destination I want to be. But life has thrown me some curves and I just keep on rolling with the punches. I have taken a few risks, some have worked and some have not. As for cheerleaders in my life. I am so blessed to have a great team. I would not be able to get through the day sometimes without those who are on my side.. I am an independent person, but it is nice to have someone there to catch me if I fall..

erin said...

Thanks for a great post and congrats on the newest release! I'm a "slow and steady wins the race" kinda girl... so I guess for me, it's the journey for steady reward :)

Pat Cochran said...

My chief cheerleader and support in my
almost three decades of volunteer pro-
jects has been my husband of 51 years.
With his assistance, I was able to
achieve much more than I had original-
ly planned!

Pat C.

traveler said...

My cheerleader is always by my side. Steady and trustworthy. The journey as well, steady and hopefully rewarding.

Susan Crandall said...

In truth, I'm not much of a risk taker. However this particular book made such demands that it forced me to do it. I never once when writing WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD, had that moment when I felt I was taking the wrong road. That in itself is noteworthy...usually about three-quarters of the way through a book, I'm overcome with the conviction that it is drivel, boring and nobody will ever want to read it. Everything about this book has been different.
The cheerleaders certainly helped ... my agent, my critique partners. I'd truly hate to go through this process, or anything really, all alone. I'm a solitary person at my core, but not a person who doesn't need others. I'm not sure that that makes sense, but that's the best way I have of describing it.
I appreciate your stories so mcuh, thank you.

Na said...

Hi Susan! I have read several of your books and enjoyed them all.
For me when it comes to life I believe in positive thinking and when you try and don't succeed, try and try again. These things can make a journey all the more meaningful. In many cases I find the journey more important than the desitination.


donnas said...

Thanks for the great post.

If anyone its my mom that keep me bolstered.

I loved Sleep No More. Looking forward to reading more.

bacchus76 at myself dot com