The usual question a stranger will ask after finding out I write fiction is, “Where do you get your stories?” There is no singular answer. Each story has its own genesis. I always see the beginning and the ending clearly. The middle part is always nebulous and takes a while to flesh out.
I wrote a failed novel called Fog Beach several years ago. The kernel of the story was planted fifteen years before that, when my brother was auditing a small oil company and found evidence of a scam involving government subsidies. There were a few good scenes in that book, but it was dense and too complicated to follow.
The bare bones concept of With Artistic License came to me in a dream, scene by scene over the course of a night. I dreamed of a six-year-old boy drawing on a wall and woke up laughing (I often laugh out loud in my sleep, which drives my wife crazy). I kept waking up laughing and jotting down notes before falling asleep and dreaming the next scene. By the morning I had the bones of a screenplay, but decided to explore the characters in more depth by telling it as a novel. The actual writing took three and a half years.
The concept of Time Management, a novel had been with me since I was a kid. I began writing it in my forties, abandoned it, picked it up again in my fifties, and finished it in my sixties. It took me a long time to figure out what the internal and external conflicts were, and once I had those in place it again took three and a half years to write.
Determined to work faster, I decided to write a novella next and kicked around a few ideas with my wife. I was just finishing up Time Management and we were driving through an affluent neighborhood of Santa Barbara looking at stately homes with their well-tended gardens, and imagining the occupants I wondered, “What would drive a normal, mild-mannered, well-educated woman to commit murder?” I put that idea on the back burner in May of 2015 and didn’t think of it again until I sat down on January first 2016 and began making notes. Evelyn was a short, sweet affair. I started the actual writing on April first and was finished on September first, a total of nine months from start to finish. There was a little editing and tweaking after that, but for all intents and purposes it was done.
For this new book (working title Rum Beach) I want to write an ensemble piece with several characters whose lives intersect in the small town of Rum Beach. I can’t tell you how or why a character springs to mind. They seem to lurk in the background and then step forward and say, “What about me? Tell my story.” I had several characters in mind and left them to simmer for seven or eight months, letting the story coalesce around them. The goal is to have the first draft written by the end of the year. It’s an ambitious goal, but something to shoot for.