We Have a Situation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been a month since my debut novel, The Long Ride Home, was released, and it’s been an interesting experience. Because I write a column for four area newspapers, I have a local following, so a lot of people I see face to face have read the book and commented either online or in person. Luckily, because of the newspaper column I’m used to people coming up out of the blue to chat about something I wrote, so I haven’t freaked out. It’s possible I haven’t even made a complete ass of myself. Yet.

The thing about this book is it is set here, where I live, so these readers are interacting with it on a very different level than they would the books I’m working on now, which are set in Texas. Probably the biggest compliment to this point is that people are telling me, “Yep, you nailed it. That’s us. That’s Browning, Montana.” And so far no one has come unglued because they’re sure that character in the book is them and that is not how they are.

But what’s funny—and I mean this in both the funny/weird and increasingly the funny/bite-my-tongue way—is that people keep saying, “Wow. Your book is, like, really well written.”

And I want to say, “What, you thought I was just fooling around with this writing gig for the last ten years?”

This is partially my fault, because I’ve never talked much about my writing beyond my humor columns, so most of them—including some of my immediate family members—have no idea how much time I’ve put into studying the craft. They just see these funny little stories in the newspaper every other week and think that stuff pops out of my head, fully formed. If only. So when I suddenly declared, “Hey, guys, here’s my book!” they had no idea what to expect.

I’m glad they like it. I’m proud of it. And now I have to break it to them all that this sweet, hopeful family-friendly book with no sex and hardly any swearing was a total fluke, and I have never written anything else like it before or since. So no, Mom, you are not going to want to read the next one. Or the one after that. Or sell it to all your friends at bible study.

At the same time, I’m talking more about my creative process than ever, while writing a true series for the first time. And I have come to realize that I am a situational writer. I start with a situation and then create the characters to put into that situation that will make the best story. Book one and book two of the series revolve around the same set-up: a pair of childhood friends who get drunk one night, have sex, and end up with a baby. Because they’re friends, they agreed to platonically raise this child together, and have been doing so happily for five years.

And then one of them falls in love with an outsider and it doesn’t just upset the apple cart, it shoves that puppy off a cliff, smashing all that platonic bliss on the rocks. So book one is when she falls in love with another man. Book two is Baby Daddy attempting to cope with suddenly being on the outside of his little family looking in, while another guy takes his place. So far, so good.

But now I need a book three, and I’ve got a whole cast of potential stars among the secondary characters from the first two books. What I don’t have is a situation. For the first time, I have to start with my characters and figure out what to do with them. I wouldn’t say this is freaking me out, but my ice cream consumption has doubled in the past month and the fit of my jeans is starting to restrict my ability to breathe deeply.

How about the rest of the writers in our group? Where do you start? With the people, or the situation?

 

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David Parsons had wished on every star in heaven that he’d get his missing horse back, because he needed Muddy in the worst way. 

If he’d had any idea what how bad the worst could be, he would have been a whole lot more careful what he wished for. 

For ordering information and an excerpt, visit KariLynnDell.com