SUMMER RENTAL is done. Mostly. I’ve finished the copy edits, written the dedication, am working on the acknowledgements. Also the recipes still have to be written. Which means that my writing plate is, metaphorically speaking, clean. So, you ask, what comes next?
Next comes the fun. Starting a new book is like starting the first day of school–you know, back before you hated school and worried about passing math and whether or not you’d ever get a date, or get accepted to a college, any college. I like to think about starting a new book in terms of getting up excited in the morning, putting on a starched cotton plaid dress with a big sash bow in the back, and marching off, newly sharpened Number 2 pencils in hand, along with a crisp new notebook, to find knowledge and new books in the library.
I don’t want to tell you too much about What Comes Next, because I’m Irish, and deeply superstitious, and don’t want to hex the little embryonic book that is even now growing and developing in my warped subconscious.
What I will tell you is how this little puppy was conceived. I dreamed it. Yup. For several nights running this summer, I dreamt of a woman. She was sitting in a church and she was righteously PISSED. Hmm. So one night, in my dream, or maybe it was while I was driving, I asked that dream woman what she was doing. And she told me–“I’m watching my ex-husband get re-married.”
Reaallly? “Yup,” she said. “And I’m okay with it.” Reallly?
I mentioned to my agent and my editor that this woman was bothering me with repeat appearances. Since it was time for me to tell them exactly what my NEXT book would be, I thought it might be good if I went back to dream woman and asked her a few more questions.
I scribbled down some options. Cobbled together a proposal for the NEXT book. And they like it, they really like it.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I thought I might share with you the twisted process I go through when hatching an idea. Because readers ask me this all the time. Where do you get your ideas? When my children were younger, I frequently got them during carpool, either driving to school in the morning, or waiting in the school parking lot in the afternoon. I got them while reading the newspaper. Once, a dear friend’s son was involved in a searing custody battle, and I sat in the courtroom with her, and the idea for a book was born from her pain. I got the idea for HISSY FIT while sitting in a bubble bath. I had to scribble down the idea for SAVANNAH BREEZE on a paper napkin in a restaurant in Charleston, after I eavesdropped on a conversation at the next table.
Once I have an idea, I pester my agent. What do you think? Could this be a book? Is there a story here? Is this a character my readers will love? And is it I story I could tell and tell really well? Does it seem like a Mary Kay Andrews story?
Stuart is a very, very patient man. He’s used to these deranged phone calls and knows exactly how to keep me on process. Sometimes, he hates the idea, and he’ll tell me why, and I’ll go away and sulk for a while, but almost always, I come to realize he’s right. Other times he loves the idea, and he’ll brainstorm with me. That’s how the plot of SUMMER RENTAL came about, over dinner (and wine) before a book-signing two years ago at the Jersey Shore.
Once Stuart likes the idea, I noodle around with it some more. In the meanwhile, he has a conversation with my editor, just to see if she likes it too. Fortunately, Jen seems to love the idea for the NEXT book. We have phone discussions, and I scribble some ideas. What’s the name of this character? Names are incredibly important to me. For protagonists, I like a name that sounds unique, which is why my books are peopled with characters with names like Callahan, Neva Jean, Weezie, BeBe, Mary Bliss, Keeley and Dempsey. For the protagonist of my next book, I chose the name of my late great-grandmother, whom I only met as a very young child. I love that name so much I could hug it, I could eat it for dessert, that’s how much I love this name.
Where is the book set? A real town, or a made-up place? Georgia, or someplace else? It’s looking like someplace else, this time around, probably a made-up small town in North Carolina. What does my character do? Oh, what fun I’m going to have writing about the world of this next book. I’ve already started researching that world, and at the risk of sounding smug, it’s gonna be good.
What’s my protagonist’s dilemma? Hmm. I guess we start with the fact that she’s actually attending her ex-husband’s wedding. What’s that all about? Now we’re getting down to brass tacks. Now comes the hard part. Actually plotting the story. For me, characters and setting are the icing, the sweet part that comes quite naturally. Now I’ve got to bake the cake, making sure I have a strong, stable, tasty platform to support my characters. I’ve got to figure out how to get her out of that church pew–and into and out of all kinds of plot complications.
Lucky for me, my writer’s group is having our twice-yearly retreat next week. We’ll meet up at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, N.C., lugging our laptops and crockpots and notebooks and index cards–and peanut M&Ms and cheap Chardonnay. We’ll all share the ideas for our next books, brainstorm, set goals, write like women possessed—and then, at night, meet to bitch and whine, discuss progress, and most importantly, play word games like Scrabble, Balderdash and Taboo.
Hopefully, at the end of the week, I’ll come home with the strong foundation–and lots of new pages, of the NEXT book. I’ll put away my little plaid dress, climb into my black yoga pants, and get down to work.
How about you? Is there a novel raging inside you? Did you know that today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month? (Also known as NaNoWriMo) Check here for the details, and let me know what you decide. Who knows? Maybe November will be the month we all get a book going.