Monday, August 09, 2010
Make-Believe Monday with Anne Calhoun
Anne, first tell us a little bit about the manuscript you're working on now.
Anne: I've just finished another set of revisions to a contemporary romantic suspense I began in 2007 and set aside for months at a time to work on other projects. The hero is an undercover cop and the heroine owns the bar he's sneakily managed to get a job in because he suspects she's working with a gang to run drugs and guns. She's got secrets, of course, but working with a drug lord isn't one of them. ;-) This is a straightforward romantic suspense, emphasis on romantic, and a departure from my more familiar work in the erotic romance subgenre. I'm also in the middle of a single title length erotic novel with a secret lover theme. I tend to work on a project, set it aside, work on something else, come back to Project A, repeat ad infinitum until I reach "done" and submit the book somewhere.
Debra: Now I'm wondering what secrets she has, of course. ;-) That is my writing process as well. From one to the other.
Ray Bradbury said, "We are cups, constantly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out." How do you keep your creative cup filled?
Anne: Very good question. I asked an author I really, really admire this question at a recent conference and she said, "I'm not. I want the summer off to be with my kids, so right now it's work, work, work." I'm not in her position (multiple contracts with multiple publishers) so I can rejuvenate at will! To keep my cup filled I read outside the romance genre. I'm a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. My editor introduced me to Connie Willis and I've become the Ambassador of Connie Willis, talking her up to anyone I know, because her books are so thought provoking and well-written. The same goes for Laurie R. King, Mary Doria Russell, Geraldine Brooks...smart, women writing smart, smart books. Basically I graze on whatever fiction or non-fiction catches my interest. I see a writer's brain as a big compost heap. If I put in good stuff (meaning writing that is above, way above, my own writing level and from a variety of sources - other genres, newspapers, magazines, movies, TV shows, life in general) and let it sit, occasionally turning it to add oxygen and microbes/chocolate, I'll get good compost (meaning good ideas, dialogue, metaphors, language, etc) back out. It's a slow process.
Debra: What a great way to explain it. Yes, if we want to get the good stuff to come out, we need to put the good stuff in. It's all fodder for the page. :-)
Is there a point when your characters begin to come alive and you can see and hear them?
Anne: My characters come alive through dialogue. When they start talking at inconvenient times - the grocery store, the car, church - they're coming alive in my brain. But I often don't know them well until I've been through several drafts of the book, beginning to end. I think Jenny Crusie said she writes fifty to a hundred drafts of her books. I'm not quite there, but it's close. I need to see and hear them in multiple situations before they and, more importantly, their interactions with the other characters, become clear to me.
Debra: Wow, fifty to a hundred. That's a lot!
As a child, did any particular book or author pull you into their imaginary world?
Anne: Yes, although perhaps not children's books. I remember being completely enthralled by Terry Brooks' Shannara series, as well as the Dragonlance books, the early ones, but I was a teenager when this happened. The books that really did this for me, thought, were the early Clive Cussler books - Raise the Titanic and Night Train. But, without a doubt, the very first time this happened was with Kathleen E Woodiwiss's A Rose in Winter. That book was serialized in a women's magazine in the early '80's and I read the magazine version, then went to the library and got all her books. I was perhaps ten or eleven at that point, probably too young for the content, but for better or worse, my parents never censored my reading material.
Debra: It's nice to have parents and librarians who don't censor the reading. So often a child's reading level will be way above their grade level. And so often those readers grow up to be authors. So you were drawn to romance at a very early age!
Anne: I've always been captivated by the romance element in fiction/movies (not Cussler's though, LOL), and it's why I'll watch the first Bourne movie over and over, but couldn't care less about the next two. When Marie dies minutes into the second movie, I was like, "WTF is that all about?" I kept watching at that point only for Matt Damon eye candy, and Joan Allen's wonderful performance. At my sister's urging I recently watched Battlestar Galactica on DVD. About halfway through the fifth season I emailed her and said, "If Starbuck and Apollo don't end up together, I'm going to be pissed!" She wrote back and said, "This is not a series specializingin happy endings, Anne." That's all she said. My sister = voice of reason. I realized then that I'm hardwired to search for the HEA (happy every after), even in the most desperate of situations. That said, BSG is one of the best TV series I've ever watched (after The Wire) and I can't recommend it enough.
Debra: Sisters are great for that, aren't they? :-) And now I am going to have to search for that series because I've never seen it!
If there were no categories for books, no reader expectations to meet and you could create the wildest work of imagination that you could think of, what kind of story would that be?
Anne: Questions like that make my brain shut down! I have a terrible time suspending disbelief. I watch actionmovies and think, "Yeah, that's just like my life. Yup. Every week some guy comes into my supermarket and takes everyone hostage, then falls in love with the FBI agent sent to bring him in before they team up to use fifty crates of ketchup, a bottle of vinegar, and a tube sock to blow the entire strip mall to kingdom come." It's TERRIBLE! I'm completely unable to enjoy just about anything produced in Hollywood today, LOL. That's why I loved The Wire to the point of watching it back to back to back the night the DVDs arrived from Netflix, and dreaming about the characters. But when a fictional work does grab me, a la BSG, I am completely and totally there.
Debra: :-) LOL I dislike grocery shopping so much that, well it's probably a good thing that doesn't really happen at our supermarkets or I'd never go. Well unless they were going to blow things up with ketchup. LOL Now that might make it worthwhile. ;-)
Is there anything else you would like to add about the role of imagination, and dreams in creating fiction? Any other message for our readers?
Anne: Imagination's a funny thing. One book I frequently recommend to creative folks is Twyla Tharp's The creative Habit. In that book she talks about creative DNA, about the way we use our chosen art form to say something about the world. I see happily ever afters, and that's just the way I am. (Interestingly/FWIW I don't see them in real life. Fall in love/get married or don't. Makes no difference to me. But in ficiton...don't pull the rug out from under me, and make me believe the HEA is real, heart-felt, and life-long.) We all have our own creative DNA, and I think we do our best work when we honor that and apply ourselves diligently to bringing that vision out to the best of our ability.
I also believe that while some of our creative instincts are deeply embedded, we will grow and change as artists. I love to see my favorite authors trying something new because it tells me they're growing as people. I may not like their new endeavors, but the artist side of me is happy they're putting stuff into the compost heap and getting rich new earth out.
Debra: Another great book to be added to the to be read list. Thank you! And Anne, I want to thank thank you for joining me here on this Make-Believe Monday to share a little bit of the magic of writing with our readers. May your compost heap always be full of good things and rich new earth to write with.
Readers may visit Anne at
Debra's News/Debra is Watching:
This weekend I was in Atlanta where my friend Amani put on a wonderful bellydance workshop with the marvelous Mahoumed Reda. It was one of those experiences of a lifetime and reminded me how much joy there is in the dance.
I believe life is meant to be danced, lived and written about.
And in the news? One of the things which came through my Twitter while I was away dancing was the news re:Dorchester Publishing Update.
This is also the business model for my publishing house, Samhain. Books are released first as e-books then six to eight months later in trade paperback.
I've believed for some time that books are in more forms than most publishers can afford to keep producing. We have hardbacks, mass market paperbacks, trade paperbacks and e-books. Last year I was at a writers conference having this exact conversation and I remember saying I believed at least one of the forms is going to fall away. Will it be mass market? I don't have a crystal ball, but it's kind of looking that way, isn't it?
So what is an author to do? Well, life is a dance and in this dance the music keeps changing. We don't control the music. It does no good to stand around complaining about the music. And standing around isn't really living. We can only control how we dance to it and what partners we dance with. But if we keep dancing and living and writing...if we do that we may just find joy in the dance.
Until next time keep dancing.
Love and light,