Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Gayle Trent
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Teresa Medeiros is consistently on the New York Times, Publishers Weekly and USA Today's bestseller lists. She's a four-time nominee for the highest award given by the Romance Writers of America, the RITA, and winner of the Romantic Times Award for Best Historical Love and Laughter. Her novel Charming the Prince received the Dorothy Parker Award of Excellence in the Missed Gem Category. For more details, visit the author's web site at http://www.teresamedeiros.com/.
How do you construct your books; i.e., do you work up an outline and go from that; do you prepare extensive character sketches?
I'm a very instinctive writer. I almost always "get" the characters' names first, followed by some inkling of their personality. The plot follows, then I choose the setting and time period that would best serve as a "frame" for that particular plot. I don't do extensive character sketches because the characters tend to tell me things about themselves and their histories as I write. Sometimes I won't even know they have a particular childhood memory or fear until I start writing about it. I do an outline by listing each scene I'm sure about on a separate 4 X 6 index card. It's important for me to have something on paper or I tend to drift. I also love the thrill of marking off each scene as I finish it. But I usually find that each scene leads to three more scenes I hadn't anticipated.
I read somewhere that when James Michener "felt something coming on" he delved into research. Do you do that? Or do you develop your characters and story line prior to working out the historical details?
I tend to research as I go because I never know exactly which details I'll need for a particular book. I keep a stack of research books at my elbow all the time while I write and am constantly stopping to thumb through them. I'm afraid if I tried to research a book before I started writing, I'd get bogged down in all of those delicious details and never start the book.
What does a typical workday for you entail?
I usually get up around 7 a.m., eat breakfast, watch Guiding Light on tape (my guilty pleasure for the day). I'm usually at the computer by 9:00 or 9:30. I spend far more time than I should checking my e-mail. Then I start working. I tend to review what I've done the day before first, then move on to new material. I usually work until 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. unless I'm on deadline. When I'm on deadline, I work nights and weekends playing catching up. (Yes, I was the obnoxious kid who always did her book report the night before it was due, but still got an A.)
What is your greatest writing accomplishment? Greatest disappointment?
My greatest writing accomplishment has to be remaining in this capricious business for almost seventeen years. I know how rare it is for a writer to get published, much less make a healthy living at it so I'm very conscious of my blessings.
My greatest disappointment was probably the fact that fewer readers than usual read my one western romance Nobody's Darling (April '98). I was extremely proud of that book. It was a critical darling, winning several awards, but there are still so many readers out there who simply won't read westerns. If they gave it a chance, I think they'd find everything they've come to expect from a "Teresa Medeiros book" and more.
What would you say is your inspiration?
God, my husband, and music. There wouldn't be any books without that particular combination of ingredients.
When I first met my husband, I was still dating the obligatory "loser boyfriend" that every girl must endure. To win my heart and woo me away from him, Michael wrote a short story for me in which he and I had to thwart the forces of evil and save the world. Of course, the story ended with the two of us sharing a romantic kiss-on the page and in real life! But the beauty of it is that I had completely lost touch with the part of me that wanted to be a writer until he handed me that story. So guess what I did-I rewrote it and handed it back to him. (Hey, he had the fictional me acting in ways that were completely out of character!) That was the moment the creative fire in me was rekindled. I started my first book in January of 1984 and we got married in May. When I say I couldn't do it without him, I mean it!
If you weren't a romance writer, what would you be?
A pastry chef. What can I say -- a girl can dream, can't she?
The Bride and the Beast is your first hardcover release. What has this development meant to your writing career?
I'd definitely equate it to a job promotion. The paperback market went a little soft in the past few years so publishers are constantly looking for creative ways to expand your readership. The quality of the books are exactly the same; it's really only the marketing that's changed. I like the fact that it gives you two shots at the market-first in hardcover, then in paperback.
Do you have a favorite book, or one that is more special to you than the others you've written? If so, which one and why?
Oooh, that's a tough one-like asking which child is your favorite. I think I love different books for different reasons. I absolutely lived my first book, Lady of Conquest. While it probably wasn't as technically proficient as some of my later efforts, it will always hold a special place in my heart. I was so in love with the heroes of Heather and Velvet, Thief of Hearts, and Nobody's Darling. Some books you love because they were easier to write. Some books you love because they wrung the soul right out of you, but you finished them anyway.
You dedicated Breath of Magic to Elizabeth Montgomery, who played Samantha on the classic television series Bewitched. Do you think Harry Potter is the Samantha for today's generation? Why or why not?
I love Harry Potter! I'm still crushed because J.C. Penney's isn't making Harry Potter sheets for king-size beds! Every writer should get down on their knees and kiss J.K. Rowling's feet for delivering another generation of readers to our doors. I think every kid has a fascination with magic. I remember sitting in class in the third grade trying to levitate a book with my mind instead of paying attention to the teacher. I absolutely believe that Harry Potter taps into the same fantasies as Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie. Of course, those were primarily female fantasies. I'm a little bummed because I don't think Harry would have succeeded as well if he had been a Harriet. Girls will read about boys, but boys won't read about girls.
What's the best advice you have to offer a fellow writer?
I have to steal something from Stephen King -- Tell the story. Tell the truth. And don't ever waste time looking over your shoulder wondering what someone else will think of it. Quite frankly, it's none of your business.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Gayle Trent has been writing for several years. Her first novel, Photo Finish, was published in October 1999. Trent lives in Virginia with her husband, two children, a huge white puppy, a mini-lop rabbit, and the neighbor's cat (it came to visit and is still there). Visit her web page at http://www.gayletrent.com/.