Friday, March 30, 2012

Where Ideas Come From: Part II

Most writers sooner or later hear the question: "Where do you get your ideas?" I addressed that in another blog (Dec. 4, 2011), but that addressed one book and one idea source.

So if an idea doesn't conveniently pop into your head, or you have a character in search of a plot, what do you do?

We all know that change can affect us in an instant. A telephone call, a doctor's diagnosis, the screech of brakes--and a life is changed irrevocably, forever. From now on, everything will be divided into life "before" and life "after."

Change your heroine's life is some tragic manner and then help her climb out of the pit and start over again. If you write romance, give her a stalwart and handsome guy to get her to her HEA. (If you don't know what that means, you don't write romance.)

You can have your character make a seemingly innocent decision that leads to consequences she (and the reader) never see coming. (Peter Taylor was a master of this technique.) Like a line of dominoes, that decision affects another and another until she's at a place she never expected to be.

This can be fun if it turns out to be a place she declared vehemently at the beginning of the story that she most definitely would never be. Will she have grown throughout the story to realize this is where she was meant to be in spite of her declaration, or will she end up bitterly reflecting on that one time she took a path from which there was no returning?

One of my favorites is "What if?" Think of a situation and its logical outcome and then ask yourself, "What if the heroine did something unexpected instead?" This is akin to the fateful decision, but different in that this time she consciously makes the choice and faces the consequences.

The "What if?" can also be an external force. In "Angels Unaware," Kat expects her husband to stand by her when she learns she has cancer. Wouldn't most husbands? But what if Jordan has no stomach for sickness, and he walks out? It's a combination of the tragic circumstance and an unexpected reaction.

I used all of the above to move my four characters in "The Lunch Club." There are tragic events. There are fateful decisions that have unexpected consequences. And over them all are the words "what if" as the characters pick themselves up and decide what to do next.

All of them find love--new love, renewed love and strengthened love--that leads them to their HEA.

Oh--"Happy Ever After."

Wishing all of you a blessed Easter season and the joys of springtime and renewal.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Payback time

Yesterday a child asked me, "Miss Sandy, is it spring? The calendar says it's still winter."

I pointed to the pear tree in the next yard, dancing with white blossoms, then to the yellow daffodils across the street and finally to my azalea bushes whose pink flowers were signaling to humming birds that was safe to return.

"The calendar may say 'winter,' but Mother Nature says 'spring,'" I said.

"Is it the global warming?" Before I could give my opinion, he followed his own train of thought. "Maybe we'll get winter this summer," he said with the thoughtful air only 10-year-old boys can muster. Then he sighed. "AND we'll have lots of skeeters 'cause the winter didn't kill the eggs."

Isn't that always the way? Nature gives with one hand and snatches back with the other. A beautiful spring now versus the possibility of a too-hot summer, or a complete reversal of seasons. Warm weather heralding not just flowers and birds, but tornadoes and thunderstorms. A clement winter followed by hordes of mosquitoes and other pests.

In other words, nature is a big tease.

Life is like that, too. As Doris Day sings, "The party's over ... the piper must be paid."

In "The Lunch Club," Jane Ann has many wonderful years with the man she loves, only to have all the dire predictions about her May-December marriage come true.

Beth enjoys her comfortable lifestyle, but the price she pays is her independence.

Harriet doesn't want to bother her kids with her problems, and then when she needs them -- they can't be bothered.

And Melody learns that giving your heart too quickly can result in heartbreak.

Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it? Be assured that just like Nature, the rainbow and clear skies follow the storm.

Ecclesiastes 3:1: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

I think The Byrds sang that one.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A little taste of "The Lunch Club"

I thought you might enjoy an excerpt from ny upcoming release, "The Lunch Club." The story concerns four women who have been friends since their kids were in kindergarten. Their friendship has been limited to bragging about their kids and then their grandkids, but now each is facing a personal crisis -- and they learn what being friends really means.


Harriet was disappointed that Melody had already left when they wheeled her back to her room. The floor nurse said she had left a few minutes earlier and conveyed the message that both of her children had been notified and were on their way.

“I didn’t mean they were supposed to come running,” Harriet said. “I just thought they ought to know. What in the world did Melody tell them?”

But the nurse had no idea. Instead of answering, she straightened Harriet’s blanket and offered her a sip of water.

“How about a good, strong cup of coffee?” Harriet asked, but without much hope. She shut her eyes, trying to doze a little. No use. Her mind kept replaying her agonizing crawl down the hallway toward the cell phone. She remembered reaching it after what seemed an eternity and dialing 9-1-1, but not much afterward. Someone had given her a shot after they got to the hospital, and the rest was a confusion of dreams and reality until she awoke in the morning.

She gave up and opened her eyes. Dr. Lentz was sitting there, shuffling through some papers in a manila file folder, so Harriet figured she must have dozed some after all.

“About time you got here, you old coot,” she said.

“I was here last night, but you were out of it,” he said. “Is this the thanks I get for having my dinner interrupted?”

“You could stand to miss a few dinners,” Harriet countered. Winthrop Lentz was grossly overweight. Win, as he was called by everyone but his mother, was also short, had large, rather bulging eyes and a wide, thin-lipped mouth, all of which combined made him resemble a fat frog. Harriet loved him to death.

“Harriet, you’ve been seeing me for what? Thirty-five years or so?” he asked now, turning serious.

“About that long,” Harriet agreed. “I started when the bank insisted everyone get an annual physical.”

“You have a very slim file,” he said. “All I show is the annual visit and maybe a little blood work.”

“I’m never sick,” Harriet said with a touch of pride. “A cold now and then, but nothing I couldn’t handle myself.”

He nodded, his eyes thoughtful. “I have a note here I told you to start taking a calcium supplement and vitamin D. Are you?”

Harriet shook her head. “You also told me to start estrogen replacement therapy, and I refused. And see how that turned out. All those women getting breast cancer. I don’t put anything in my body God didn’t intend me to.”

“A glass of milk day? Yogurt?”

“Lactose intolerant,” she replied. She was getting annoyed. He should already have known her history.

Win shook his head and turned his attention to a length of paper resembling a computer printout. Maybe the printout was the results of her X-rays, which she suspected had been sent to some technician in India to read. She tried to see, but he held the paper out of her line of sight.

She thought of all the visits she’d made to Dr. Lentz’s office. The first time, they discovered they shared a birthday, right down to the hour. They spent the fifteen minutes allowed by Win’s HMO chatting about coincidences. The first visit set the pattern: she’d go in, have her blood pressure checked and her heart and lungs listened to and tell him she wasn’t having any problems. Then they’d talk until her appointment time was up. Win wasn’t a doctor who rushed his patients; they were paying for fifteen minutes of his time and fifteen minutes was what they got, unless they needed more. Once he advised her about a car she was thinking of getting, but most of the time her appointment consisted of just two friends, chatting.

Win cleared his throat and she snapped back into focus. “You were in my office eight months ago and never mentioned you were having trouble with your hip, and yet you told the ER doctor it’s been hurting for over a year.”

“Why should I? You’d send me to a specialist and do blood work and I’d come back for a follow-up and you’d tell me the pain was caused by arthritis and to take Aleve. I took the Aleve and saved us both a lot of trouble.”

“Harriet, you are the most obstinate, opinionated woman I have ever met,” Win said, looking heavenward as if hoping an angel would descend and pound some sense into his patient’s head with a golden harp.

“That’s a nice thing to say to a sick old lady,” Harriet said. “So when are you going to set this hip so I can go home?”


Harriet is in for a surprise when she hears the answer.

Stay tuned.