BE INSPIRED, OR GO NUTS
I'm always asked how I got that spark of inspiration to start my first novel and how I get my ideas for each book that I write. The answer to both is related, so bear with me while I try to explain.
My children are now 16 and 17, but when I was pregnant with my youngest I started writing a Christmas letter that I included in all of my Christmas cards to save me time writing the same thing again and again. Except my Christmas letters weren't what most people would call 'typical'. They were more Erma Bombeck-like, taking a wry look at life instead of the 5-page epistles of bragdom that these letters are typically like.
I started getting fan mail for my Christmas letters, from family and friends as well as from people I'd never met but who lived near somebody who'd shared the letter etc. It was funny, but inspiring, too. Teachers throughout my educational career had told me I should be a writer but I didn't believe I have the stick-with-it to write an entire book, or that I would be able to pull off something like an entire novel since I have the patience of a flea. Still, the positive feedback was one of the motivating factors when one day in 1996 I decided to sit down at my computer and start writing. I wrote a sentence first, and then a paragraph, then a page and soon after that, I had a chapter. And I began to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could write an entire book. That was 13 books ago and I'm just beginning to feel that I might have been right!
But how do I get my inspiration for each book? Again, let me refer back to my Christmas letters. As I mentioned, they are a slice of real life which is something I try to inject into all my novels so that the characters seem real to my readers. And in an indirect way, my children also inspire my dedication to my craft. It is their incessant bickering/demanding/sulking that makes me run to my 'happy place' throughout the day, giving me ample time at the computer to write yet another book. See? Living with teenagers CAN be a good thing!
I have several friends who constantly threaten to bind up my letters (which they've saved) and have them published. I'm not sure that I'm ready for that, but since it's the season I figured I could pour over them and share a sampling of the letters that got me started with this whole crazy writing thing:
1995: The most exciting news from 1995 is that there are now two of us wearing 'big-girl' pants…For those of you who are interested, my potty-training techniques will be published in the spring in a book entitled Potty-training At Gunpoint.
1997: Also in the small miracle category, I finished my first novel…It wasn't easy researching and writing with one child sitting in my lap playing with the keyboard and the other one spinning my chair around. For tips on writing with small children, allow me to refer you to another one of my non-fiction books, Childrearing With Duct Tape.
1998: This has been, well, another year in the life of a family with two kids and no dog. We've concluded we don't need the dog because the kids can get the paper. They also like to be scratched behind the ears and lick each other. It's hard to believe this is the way big people start out.
2000: This was the year of another milestone: Tim and I finally succumbed to our children's desire for a pet and let Connor have an ant farm. The children spend countless hours watching their ants dig tunnels and act like ants. Connor was a bit disappointed when he let them out to go fetch the newspaper and they never came back. I think we'll try a goldfish next year.
2006: Another year of growing older, growing wiser, and another year of our children becoming a warning to the world as to what happens when a right-brained person and a left-brained person breed.
Speaking of breeding, Tim and I took the plunge this year! Finally giving up all hope that the guinea pigs would one day learn to fetch the paper and cook dinner, and nixing the idea of a third child, we got a fluffy Havanese puppy. We figured it would be better than another child because he would never learn to talk back or ask for the car keys…After much discussion, we decided to name him Quincy (aka The Quincinator). Other top name choices were Guinness (Tim), Mr. Darcy (Meghan), Duke (Connor) and Uranus (me). I really wanted the opportunity to say, “Take Uranus out for a walk” or “I think Uranus has fleas.” Oh, well. Quincy it is. He still hasn't learned how to fetch the paper, but he's darned good at shredding it!
2007: Another year older, another year wiser, and another year coming closer to understanding why some mammals in the animal kingdom eat their young…My experiences have led me to write a follow-up to my surprisingly successful first self-help book Potty Training at Gunpoint with a new book about getting your teenagers to actually listen to you: Duct Tape: It's Not Just for Toddlers.
Our biggest milestone this year was Meghan getting her driver's permit. For those of you who haven't reached this point in your parenting careers, let me sum it up this way: it's just like childbirth, but without the painkillers.
2008: We're in our second year of living with two teenagers. I liken the experience to dressing a baby octopus in a sweater, only requiring more patience. It's been eye-opening soul-searching, rewarding in many ways, and has certainly made me appreciate my dog. Tim and I, while leading with a firm hand, have tried to make a few concessions so that the kids won't consider us old fogies but my attempts to have Tim introduce me as his “baby mama” haven't gone over too well nor has my insistence to be renamed Lil' K.
2009: I sit here writing to you once again to wish you the joys and happiness of the season, and to share with you a little bit from my new reality book series Duct Tape for the Parents' Psyche: Surviving Life with Teenagers. It includes 1,001 recipes for mixed drinks and the correct way to drink straight from the bottle…
I'm still writing for Penguin Publishing and had two more novels released in 2009, with two more scheduled for 2010. One of my proudest achievements this year was discovering a new lavender-scented fabric softener that the family just loves. Oh, and my 11th published novel, The Girl on Legare Street, hit the New York Times extended bestseller list. It was amazing how many books I had to buy to make that happen. J
I hope my words have made you smile, and have shed some light on the inner workings of a busy mom/writer. Despite the craziness and the exhaustion and the worry that I'll never be inspired enough to write another book, I wouldn't trade one single moment.
Have a wonderful holiday season, and best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!