Wednesday, March 09, 2011

You May Be a Novelist ~ by guest blogger Trish Perry

Award-winning novelist Trish Perry has written eight inspirational romances for Harvest House Publishers, Summerside Press, and Barbour Publishing, as well as two devotionals for Summerside Press. She has served as a columnist and as a newsletter editor over the years, as well as a 1980s stockbroker and a board member of the Capital Christian Writers organization in Washington, D.C. She holds a degree in Psychology. Trish’s latest novel, Unforgettable, releases in March, and Tea for Two releases in April. She invites you to visit her website.

You May Be a Novelist

If you’re like most fiction writers, whether published or not, you’ve struggled with that decision about when to actually call yourself a novelist. Yes, once you land your first contract, it’s a given. But most of us toil for years before that happens. Are we presumptuous to call ourselves novelists, or even writers, right from the start?

You know the way it plays out. Someone asks what you do. You say, “I’m a writer!” And they ask . . .?

Right. They ask if you’ve published anything. And if you haven’t, there’s often that whiff of awkwardness in the air while you justify having claimed the title.

Personally, I hesitated to call myself a writer until I got my first novel contract, for exactly that reason. I hated the idea of sounding like one of those pitiable American Idol contestants who claims she’s a much-lauded singer back home right before she mangles the living daylights out of BeyoncĂ©’s latest hit.

But I feel differently now that I’ve been more active in the publishing world and have met some truly excellent, hard-working, persevering writers—yes, I call them writers—who simply haven’t clicked with a publisher yet. They’ve even completed one or more intriguing novels and are simply trying to find the right fit. So publication isn’t the only yardstick. I think there are other criteria that can qualify one as a novelist, published or not.

Certainly, one must actually be writing. There’s no getting around that. And for our purposes here on Novel Journey, it would make sense that you’re pursuing the completion of a novel. This is an important distinction, because the novelist is a far different breed from, say, the guy who writes about the life and times of Donald Trump, or about the latest jump in corn futures, or about how to rewire a chandelier.

Your typical novelist has quite different ideas banging around in her head. Ideas about love, danger, adventure, mystery, and life-altering journeys. And in the eyes of non-novelists—or, as best-selling author Brandilyn Collins calls them, “normals”—your average novelist often seems just one set of Vulcan ears away from being a total nerd.

Do you identify with any of the following behaviors? If so, you may be a novelist.

• At times I’m so absorbed in the “what if’s” of my plot that I lose all awareness of my real-life behavior. I’ll catch myself standing, like Boo Radley in drag, staring out my window at absolutely nothing for half an hour. Or worse, staring at my next-door neighbor who has apparently waved at me several times, receiving nothing but my glassy stare in return.

• My daughter, who is house hunting, tells me she doesn’t want a competing buyer to know she is interested in the same house he is. I gasp and say, “Smart! That’s exactly what happened to one of my characters! She showed an interest in a house, so the competing buyer offered full price, and she lost the house to him.” My daughter is a sweetheart (and knows me well). So her pause is barely discernable before she carries on, allowing me time to rejoin her in the real world.

• If I’m under a tight enough deadline and afterwards I get together with friends or family, I get a sore throat from talking. Why? Because it’s just been my characters and me for a while. And my characters and I can have entire conversations without my actually speaking out loud. In fact, if I’ve been speaking out loud to my characters, the oddness factor sharpens considerably. Especially if I’m staring out my window at my next-door neighbor while I speak.

• When I see a particularly odd-looking person in real life, I quickly whip out pen and paper from my purse and blatantly draw her so I can turn her into someone fictional.

• When I publicly embarrass myself in some way, I get over it by logging my faux pas away in my brain for a future hero or heroine to suffer. This makes me happy.

• Sometimes I think back on a hero and heroine from one of my past romance novels and wonder how their relationship is currently going.

• I’ve caught myself praying for my characters.

• I don’t write murder mysteries, but I know many such novelists, and they’re constantly thinking about how they would kill people they meet—in the grocery store, online, at church. Have I mentioned Brandilyn Collins?

• I’ve been right in the middle of writing a scene when a character says or does something I never planned. Sometimes it’s something that completely changes where I want to take the plot. I used to hear about such things and think the novelist was full of herself, trying to claim mysterious gifts only great literary geniuses possess. Now I know novelists are just weird.

You may read the above descriptions and shake your head at how silly they all sound. Or you may have nodded your head here and there, identifying fully with what I’ve described. You may have different, but equally odd, behaviors to share.

If so, published or not, you may be a novelist.

Whether you still want to claim the title is up to you.

NJ: Leave a comment for Trish and be entered in a drawing for Unforgettable.


Rachel Stanhope tries to see the good in everyone. But even her good graces are challenged when she meets Josh Reegan outside her Arlington, Virginia dance studio on a brisk fall morning in 1951. Admittedly, he’s attractive, but she finds his cynicism and cockiness hard to tolerate.
A hard-news journalist and former World War II Air Force pilot, Josh considers distractions like ballroom dancing frivolous wastes of time. He has yet to shed his wartime drive to defend good against evil whenever he can. Yes, Rachel’s confident nature is a refreshing challenge, but he wouldn’t tangle with her if his newspaper hadn’t roped him into covering one of her studio’s competitions in New York City.

Between Arlington and New York, between the melodrama of ballroom antics and the real drama of political corruption, between family involvement and romantic entanglement, Rachel and Josh have their hands full. The last thing either of them expects is mutual need and support. But once they stop dancing around the truth, the results are unforgettable.


Michael Ehret said...

Trish, great stuff. I particularly resonate with the one about being so involved in the "what ifs" of my current scenario. During these moments I startle VERY easily.

My wife, understanding soul that she is, laughs uproariously each time she brings me back to earth, so to speak.

Tim King said...

I do almost all of the things on this list. Plus, whenever I’m listening to a talk that involves any anecdote or object lesson, my imagination can’t help but vamp on story variations that would intensify the story experience or turn it into a modern parable. (And if the talk doesn't involve an anecdote of its own, I usually end up thinking of my own fictional anecdote to demonstrate the point. Ugh.)


Christine said...

By your definition, I think I'm a novelist. I watch people walking through the mall and think, "Ooo..that would make a character." Or I watch TV and rewrite the storyline as it goes along. My family is starting to get used to my interjecting plot issues or characters into the conversation. Our chapel speaker at school a few weeks ago is on the police force. I was late to class because I needed to know what kind of weapons a detective carries and how long it usually takes Internal Affairs to investigate an incident.

So I guess I can start calling myself a novelist. Thanks for the post and please enter me in the drawing.
teaching by writing at yahoo dot com

Carm said...

I think writers are gifted by God in a very special way. Every time I read a good book, I am so amazed that the writer was able to come up with all the things involved in the story. Then I have to conclude that as far as Christian fiction goes, they were inspired by the good Lord to write their story. I especially love it when Biblical lessons are interwoven into the story. I would love it if I were able to be a writer, but don't believe I have it in me, so I am very content just reading all these amazing stories with which Trish has blessed us. Carm B cndbooker at sbcglobal dot net

PatriciaW said...

I think everything about writing should be liberating. I'm not one for the "too many rules" camp. Rules have a purpose. They create boundaries. Doesn't mean they can't be crossed.

Titles--aspiring author, writer, novelist, etc.--seem to constrict more than liberate. Call yourself whatever feels right for you, but at minimum, if you write, call yourself a writer!

Patty said...

I am so a writer.

First book I ever wrote, I couldn't figure out what my hero was holding back. I knew it was big, but the 'guy' just wouldn't 'talk.'

Then one evening, I'm relaxing in the tub and the character finally 'tells' me his big secret! I'm so excited, I wrap a towel around me and go running into the den to my husband.

"Dan, I know what Jeff's secret is. He lost his mother to AIDS when he was a little boy and never got pass the loss!"

My husband stared at me for a minute then without missing a beat said. "Honey, they have drugs for those little voices in your head."

Since then, he's realized those voices have stories to tell and it's God's plan for me to tell them.


Ane Mulligan said...

Patty, you made me spit tea all over my screen! What a hoot!!!

Ane Mulligan said...

Carm, you're the winner of Trish's book. I'm trying to email you. If you don't get it, email me at ane [at] anemulligan [dot] com

Terrie Todd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terrie Todd said...

I particularly love the bit about wondering how your characters from past novels are faring now. Too funny, too true!

kristen said...

One of the things I catch myself doing is making up stories about the people I drive or walk by.

Like the man walking around a tree with a shovel by the public library.

Or the couple arguing by the side of the road.

It's fun to see how many motivations and story lines I can come up with just by glancing at someone else's life.

Also, writing has trained me to analyze other people's writing, which can be really funny sometimes. Like a sign I saw on the side of the road a few years ago: "Psychic convention" with an arrow pointing right. If you were psychic, wouldn't you know where the convention was? Why would you need a sign?

Thanks for the post!