We’ve returned to Omaha from our cross-country travels. It feels like we deserve a rest, but it was putting our new home together that spurred us to get away for a rest. Now we’re back looking at oddly placed furniture, daily deliveries that always bring more corrugated board, pictures galore stacked against walls, and all that outdoor work that comes with spring.
Something feels like it's not working right.
Actually, everything is working just fine. The house is coming along—albeit slowly—the grandkids in New York and Omaha are great, our electronic gizmos have not rebelled against humanity, and Jenny is up to mischief. Jenny, of course, is a character in the next Steve Dancy Tale, tentatively titled Jenny’s Revenge. As you probably guessed from the title, she’s not a bit player.
Jenny was a character from The Shopkeeper—the first in the series—and her absence has been long. Absence has not made the heart grow fonder, however. She’s on a tear, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. Which brings up a question: if I’m the author, why would I not know what Jenny is going to do? When I start a book, I know the beginning, the end, and the players, but I do not map out the middle. I get the characters started, and then type like crazy to see how they will take me to the predetermined end. (There was an instance when my characters got ornery and discarded my ending for one of their own.)
I’m not suggesting this approach to all writers. In fact, for Tempest at Dawn, I outlined every single day before writing a word. For me, the amount of pre-planning depends on the subject of the novel. This is going to sound odd, but it also depends on how much I trust the characters. I created Steve, Jeff, Joseph, Virginia, Maggie, and Jenny. These characters would never let me down. I know them better than they know themselves. I can rely on them to act out a rousing story and to stay pretty much on the path I set for them. George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Roger Sherman, and even good ‘ol Ben Franklin might reject my fanciful plot for one they actually lived. In this case, it’s better to lay everything out in advance.
One of the events I did on this trip was to participate in three panels at the Tucson Festival of Books. I was asked how I found inspiration to write. My answer was vague because every writer has to find what works for them. For me, it’s getting back to my friends and seeing what they are up to. And that’s the real reason I don’t outline the entire plot—writing wouldn’t be as much fun if I knew everything that was going to happen.