I recently uncovered a copy of Surviving the Writer’s Life by Suzanne Lipsett, from among the many books on writing and writers that have been packed for months in preparation for moving into a house big enough to accommodate thousands of books and manuscripts. In this autobiographical collection of essays, Lipsett admits that she was in disbelief when a world traveler had no intention of turning his fantastic adventures into a book. “What a waste of material,” she exclaimed.
I don’t approach living as “grist to the mill” experience for my writing, but life invariably insinuates itself into my work. Whether this is conscious or subconscious is difficult to assess, but the infiltration is unintentional…for the most part. I admit to making use of life events—my own and those of others—in my novels. Who doesn’t? But who enters into an event with the sole purpose of writing about the experience? That seems like living life backward.
My debut novel, published in 2012 by Avalon Books, is set in a city with which I fell in love during a visit in the fall of 2007 (or maybe even 2006!) Years before, I had started a story about an artist’s model titled “Sylvia’s Hands” but hadn’t completed the work. My visit to Florence (Firenze) changed all that. In combination with a true-life story I heard while working as a marketing agent for a Welsh magazine that had stuck in my head, the tetra-sided tale became Wait a Lonely Lifetime.
I had not gone on the sister-bonding journey with the objective of gathering material for a book. I did bring a notebook in which I was working on another story and making notes. I hadn’t even packed a camera (which I certainly regretted) because one of my sisters had suggested buying postcards instead.
Immediately, I made mental notes about this amazing city, not intentionally to set a future novel but for my personal education. I embraced the adventure, setting aside the notebook in favor of immersing fully in the moments, absorbing every sensation and all information. Two years later, the tour of Italy with three of my sisters, bubbled and brewed and bothered to the surface with Sylvia’s hands and the lost love of a man I had never met and would never know.
Two years after that, I pitched the work-in-progress to Lia Brown, then editor at Avalon Books during the 2010 RWA Romance Writers’ Conference—the third and last of the WIPs I had prepared. One year later, all the pieces of that story came together to make the finished novel which Avalon acquired, just before the publisher completed its negotiations with Montlake to transfer all of its creative assets (writers!) to Amazon’s publishing subsidiary.
The notebook I abandoned in order to enjoy my Florence experience became my second contemporary romance novel, Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls, which is almost entirely fictional except …