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.