By Jeff Salter
[The Hound on Thursdays]
I’m pleased and honored to have as my monthly guest the very talented author of several non-fiction works: Leigh Verrill-Rhys. She has recently sold her first novel, discussed below, which is scheduled for June 2012 with Avalon Books.
Leigh and I ‘met’ on the mailgroup for RWA’s PRO Section this past June; she was very cordial and helpful to this new member. We shared several long e-mail ‘chats’ about male vs. female perspective in writing.
Her ‘bio’ is at the end, so without further delay, here’s Leigh:
What Happens Next: Wait a Lonely Lifetime
By Leigh Verrill-Rhys
First, let me thank the Hound for handing over his column to me this week. His gesture happens to coincide with my first contract for a published novel. Besides being the only thought in my head at the moment, Wait a Lonely Lifetime is a good case in point on the subject of ideas.
Many aspects of this contemporary romance have been rattling around in my imagination for years. The missing link was inspiration – that sudden flare burning in the darkness pointing straight to the story you have to write.
Here is the basic sequence of events that led to a (soon-to-be-published) novel:
* I went to art college – not a lot of inspiration for sculpture or painting for me there but, for characters and events, a gold mine!
* A story wiggled in, nested and occupied a quiet corner where it languished.
* Years later, I met my sisters in Italy. Our chosen destinations were Rome, Venice and my choice, Firenze (Florence). By this point in our journey, I trusted my ability to speak Italian and my wanderings were more adventurous.
* I took especial care to notice small details, plaques and memorials that others walked past.
* I already had the story and, in Firenze, I knew I had the place.
How I Write
I didn’t keep a travel journal, relying on my memory of what I saw, heard and thought. By some marvelous mechanism these observations and recollections found their way to the same corner of my brain and began to stir among the dust of my art college past. Add to this time and place, the spark of inspiration: a comment; a thought; an image; a wish or any of the plethora of detonators we all have and I began to write the book that will be my first published novel.
I am an ‘organic’ writer – Ian McEwan’s term for going with the flow – to start with an idea and the appearance of characters along the way. Wait a Lonely Lifetime began with a ‘what if’ scenario and the main characters in place, ready to act out the basic plot: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.
Writing this way can be a horror movie but, in this case, my characters behaved themselves to the end without hesitation, deviation or replication. They, as much as I, wanted to be together – made for each other despite their prolonged separation.
Other novels I’ve written have not been as cooperative, for fundamental reasons, one of which is time. My writing schedule for Wait a Lonely Lifetime was rigid: 1) I had accepted a ‘50k word in 4 months’ challenge in a writers’ forum; 2) the editor asked for a synopsis and three chapters as soon as I pitched the book; 3) within weeks of our initial meeting, the editor asked for the full manuscript. No time for waffle or exploration or subplots or extraneous characters or any of the other dalliances I indulge in when I’m writing without a deadline.
People often ask where ideas for stories come from. The mechanism for turning a single event or thought into a book is there, in the creative layers of brain matter. Putting a harness on that mechanism takes stubborn, bull-headed effort. In the common mantra: If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
Scenes play out in my head when I least expect them. Translating the visual into words and sentences that convey the same impact and achieve the same level of emotional satisfaction is a writer’s job.
We use words to recall experience in all the senses, tapping our brain’s capacity for transforming language into sensual experience for others to enjoy. We rely on instinct, experience and knowledge but it is what we know and feel already that makes our story unique – our personal interpretation of reality.
Thanks for letting me play in your sandbox for a bit!
Author’s Biography: Leigh Verrill-Rhys
A native of Paris Hill, Maine, Leigh spent most of her childhood and early adult years in San Francisco. After a trip to the British Isles, she took a Welsh language course and met her future husband before emigrating to Wales to marry and raise three sons. She has been a writer, editor and lecturer for most of her life, intermingled with career portfolios in marketing, finance and community arts projects.
An award-winning editor, she has published three volumes of women’s autobiographical writing about their lives in Wales and during World War II. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Welsh Academy and several RWA chapters. Wait a Lonely Lifetimeis her first published novel.
Leigh admits to running with scissors and leaping before she looks.
Good morning, everyone. Just to let you know, I’m at least five hours ahead of you (or if you’re in NZ or OZ, 15 hours behind) so I may be at work or sound asleep, but I will respond. I hope you enjoy this article. And many thanks to Jeff!
Good morning, Leigh. It’s 8:30 EDT here as I reply.
Sounds like you’ll need to take about 8 or 9 half-hour ‘power naps’ today to remain current on this blog.
I love the term ‘organic’ writing. Not only does it describe how I write (most of the time) but it sounds a lot more sophisticated than ‘pants-ster’.
Best of luck with your June release, Leigh!
Thanks for visiting, Pam. Hope you’ll come back often.
Hi – Leigh!!
Congrats on your first sale. I’m so excited for you. Thanks for sharing your journey.
Glad you could visit today, Lynn. Come back any Thursday for the Hound’s regular rants (or any other weekday for the Foxes). I try to have a guest once a month.
Congratulations Leigh on the wonderful post. And double congratulations on the sale of your novel. Can’t wait to read it!
Glad you could stop by this morning, Jess. You’re welcome back anytime.
Hurray for organic writing. I think I write the same way you do. Lots of what ifs in my head until I get a basic handle on the story, and then off I go. I learned a long time ago that if I don’t let my characters have the reins, they get pouty on me and won’t come out to play. Congratulations on the sale!
Me too, Aislinn. My major characters — and sometimes the minor players — could write the stories by themselves. They only need me at the keyboard and to do bits of research.
Oh, plus the spell checks and such. LOL
Hi, I’m here at last. Not much time on my lunch break but I’ll do my best.
Thank you everyone for the congratulations and kind words. Very much appreciated.
I like ‘organic’ writer/writing much better than this pantser idea too. I have to let my characters their freedom to play or they sulk!
Most of the time, I know there is a story there but it takes awhile to know what it is.
I’m not very good with keeping to word counts either. I wonder what happened to ‘a story is as long as it takes to tell’ sort of writing? What would we have thought of Gone with the Wind if Margaret Mitchell was restricted to absolutely no more than 120,000 words?
Jeff, thanks for holding the fort! I thought this was your day off.
Ha. Well, I’ll be off soon enough — with two long appointments today.
But I wanted to check in so I could moderate any comments by your buddies who happen to be on their first visit to this blog.
I was trying to use italics but didn’t close it properly. Sorry.
Leigh, the history of your story sounds wonderful! Traveling through Italy and remembering the people and the places, sights and sounds…. *sigh*
Congratulations on the sale. 🙂
Italy is one of the places I’d like to visit … but, alas, have not yet. Thanks for visiting today, Abigail.
Hi, Aislinn! So nice of you to take time out form your busy busy busy schedule to visit here. This is a great blog, by the way, even without me!!
More on characters if I may. I think most of my work is character-led. Someone pops in and makes him/herself at home, starts making demands for company – usually a mate!
As Jeff mentioned, he and I first met over a chat about who can write from which sex’s point of view. More on that later!
Sounds like a good read. Congrats on your contract.
I’m with you and Aislinn. I’m definitely an organic writer. It can be a mess but I love the challenge.
Congratulations on your first sale, Leigh!
Glad you stopped by, Christina. Us ‘organic’ writers have to stick together. There are lots of ‘plotters’ out there.
Congrats, Leigh! Welcome to the blog!
Hi Leigh! Congratulations on the sale of your book. What a great story to publication. I’m an organic writer. I’ve tried plotting my books. I want to. You have no idea. I’ve tried taking plotting classes to no avail. My muse bucks at the very thought of working through the story before it’s actually unfolded. All the best, Leigh!
Welcome to the blog, Nina. I haven’t actually tried very conscientiously to plot an entire story, but I imagine my characters would also chafe.
I have needed to plot certain sections of my stories, however, and the characters usually cooperate … within reason.
Wow, what a great “back story” you have! It’s good to meet you, and I wish you all the best with your novel. Congrats on the contract!
Sarah, thanks for visiting here again. Always a pleasure to ‘see’ you.
Leigh will check in later today.
HI, Leigh (and Jeff). Congratulations on the sale to Avalon! I found out that I’m just too much of a plotter to do a NaNo event, but I have a lot of respect for those who can. Well done!
Good morning, Laurie. Welcome back to the blog.
I figured we’d hear from some ‘plotters’ before too long. Once too many ‘pants-sters’ convene, it throws off the balance of nature.
I’m actually more of a plotter than I realize (or admit). Sometimes it takes a lot of anguished plotting to connect the bread crumbs left by my characters.
Here I am again. This is like my life, sorry. Coming going going again etc! You are all very patient and serene.
Wow, I’m thrilled so many of you have come here to drop your comments! Jeff is the greatest. I don’t think he expected to be picking up the tab though. This was kind of a blind date…!
Half the fun of writing a book is discovery. The other half of the fun is mining for the gold. I think I learned how I make stories when I was a teenager and it’s been a process of exploration ever since.
difficult to have a ‘blind date’ when we’re 5 hours apart. It’s a bit like that movie with the mailbox and Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves.
Well, actually it’s nothing like that movie. LOL
I’m fairly new to “making stories” since I’ve only written novels (6) for about 4.5 yrs. For the numerous decades prior to that, poetry was my main venue.
Congratulations on your sale Leigh! Thank you (and FourFoxes One Hound for hosting you) for sharing your process and path to publication. It’s always intriguing to read how authors get those great tales out of their heads and onto the page.
Thanks for visiting, Pamala. Hope you’ll return often … at least on Thursdays.
Yeah, I also enjoy learning how / where other writers find their inspiration.
Great article. Congratulations on the sale of your novel. I don’t know how I’m going to wait until 2012 to read it, but I’ll manage somehow (I just won’t have any nails left at all by then!). I love the idea that everything kind of meets up in a dusty corner of your brain and stirs around, creating a novel. That is how it works, isn’t it? Some small piece of knowledge you pick up waits in the dark for that one little spark of something else to form a grand plan.
Anyway, Have a great day!
Thanks for visiting today, Marne. I’m pleased to ‘meet’ so many of Leigh’s friends.
BTW, the ‘corners’ of my mind aren’t the only spots which are dusty / musty.
One of my favorite ‘nugget’ (as I call them) was an real-life event which involved my wife’s ancestors during the Civil War. When I first heard that story, I was captivated and knew I had to ‘write’ about it. But had no idea it would become a novel. Not my first ms, however, even though that was the one I THOUGHT would feature it. That nugget was crowded out by the plot and characters … and became central to my 2nd ms.
Congrats, Leigh, on your new release.
After reading your post, I realize you and I are a lot alike. Not just in the organic writing, but also in having a story lounging in the backs of our minds before knowing we were writers.
It wasn’t Italy for me, though one day I hope to visit. It was the tropical beaches of the West Indies.
Good luck and here’s to many happy sales!
Jenn, I want to know more about your tropical beach visit. I take it that’s where your pirate stories originated.
Thanks for visiting today.
For the other readers today, Jenn was my Guest fox for March. You can find her column in the archives under my name.
A super post, Leigh. Love hearing your process–and of your wonderful experiences in Italy. The term organic is a great one. I say I’m a pantser, but I do have an overall plot, a few ‘touch points’ for along the way and I do a few-page overview of the whole story before I get too far in. Not that I always follow it. In fact, just a few days ago I found that first overview of my second manuscript and I thought, “Sounds like a good story. Wish I’d written it.”
Good luck with your book!
Thanks for visiting, Barb. I love your anecdote about finding those notes and barely recognizing them. I’ve done something similar: while revising one of my novel ms, I had an overwhelming sense that I needed a certain scene in a certain spot. So I wrote it. A few days later, I found some hand-written notes which I’d penned months before, but never typed into my digital version. That very scene! So I wrote it twice and didn’t remember the first version while I wrote the second. There were lots of similarities, of course, but some surprising differences.
Jeff, aren’t they great? And, I’ve never met them. They are members of the various writers groups and loops I’ve been part of since about 2009. Thank you, fellow writers. I’m honored by your presence.
I wrote Wait a Lonely Lifetime in two A5 notebooks with a fountain pen and a bit in pencil. It doesn’t fill up the two notebooks – first notebook has some notes about marketing and articles for a magazine I worked for at the time. That also has a brief note about another story idea. Then I wrote: “A young man has returned from … the army at the end of [a] war. His friends have all gone to college…” and that was the beginning a what my editor called “a terrific romance.”
I’ve been thinking today about these sparks and why we get them. Could it be we’re all matchmakers at heart or world-savers? I’m an optimist and I prefer stories that have happy-ever-after endings, not necessarily avoiding the reality of the everyday either. The characters in this book and all my other novels go through bad times and survive somehow with their optimism intact. With some of my books, that takes some real doing.
Most of my writing is directly on the keyboard. But sometimes I write pages of notes when I’m fearful I’ll forget what’s in my head by the time I get the computer warmed up.
Hey, Jenn! That’s what makes writing so much fun. There must be a common denominator about us all.
I did know I was a storyteller from about the age of eight. I didn’t let myself be a writer until 2007!
Laurie, I’ve never attempted a NaNo event, or write a novel in a month or most other motivational initiators. I can’t not write. One year, my enthusiasm and my faith disappeared. I decided I was going to destroy all my manuscripts and forget the whole notion of writing. Then, I “made the mistake”(!) of reading what I’d written (about 20 manuscripts, historical and contemporary). I liked what I read. Heck and darn. I couldn’t give them up to the shredder or the fireplace.
Never, never, never destroy your manuscripts!
Glad you caught those in time.
Hi, Leigh! Major congrats on your contract!!!
Welcome, Tonya … great to have you visit again.
I thought you were a morning blogger and here it is early afternoon!
For the other readers today, Tonya was my Guest Fox for February and you can find her column in the archives under my name.
Hi, Tonya. Thank you very much.
Jeff, now I guard those stacks of notepads and notebooks with my life. I’d be at a complete loss to replace them. I’m working on transposing to the computer but… there are a trunk load of ’em!
Leigh, I can still remember a few — very RARE — instances in which I loaned out my ONLY hand-written copy of a poem … and never got it back. And, yep, it still bugs me.
Since then, I never loan originals … under any circumstances.
We’re just hearing news about the storms in the southern states. Keep safe.
Thank you all for being here today.
Thank you, Jeff, for this opportunity.
Leigh, don’t sign off yet. It’s only 8 p.m. EDT here, so I figure you’ve got a good four hours left. Ha.
Congratulations! Your story is inspiring and I look forward to reading your foray into fiction.
Thanks for this! Your site is awesome.
Thanks for posting, Ron. Seems like it took a writer in Wales to flush you out of the piney woods of N.W. LA.
Leigh, Ron has family in your neck of the world. I think.
I love the tale of your writer’s journey. According to my husband, I , too, run with scissors and leap into frays from which he’s forced to rescue me. Thank God for my resident hero. Because of him I’ve been inspired to write. I found that I’m what you’ve described as an “organic” writer…a much nicer term than pantser–I quite agree. My characters live lives on their terms and really don’t care to be regimented into a plotter’s scheme. They understand that life is messier than that. It’s part of the pageant of life. They love it and so do I. Best wishes on your sale. Truly. I am so very pleased for you.
Welcome to the blog, Donna.
Some of my characters live on their own terms also, it seems. That’s one reason they chafe so much when I try to write a synopsis!
Come back and visit anytime, Donna. I’m here on Thursdays.
Congrats on the contract. How exciting. I like the term Organic Writer!!! That fits!! 🙂 Best wishes on your writing!!
Well, it’s midnight here and I’m heading to bed. I’d like to thank Leigh for a great Guest Fox column and for bring several friends to our blog today.
And I’m always pleased to see my own buddies stop by and chat.
Good night, all.
Well, I was on my way to the ferry to Ireland – not going to bed or anything sensible like that. Hello to Ron and Hi, Donna – so good (ha ha) of you to drop by. I’m overwhelmed by the response. Thank you all so much. It is a fine sunny day in Ireland. I’ve discovered a few interesting characters here in Loch Garman – who knows what will happen to them when they get locked in my head!
It’s about 11:15 your end, Jeff. This has been such a great experience. Thank you and to all the writers and friends who’ve commented.
Have a great Friday.
I’ve enjoyed it, Leigh. Having a Guest Fox once each month is one of my best ideas ever.
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