Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Ginger Hanson: Gestation of a novel

I’m frequently asked how long it takes me to write a book and I’m never sure how to answer because I’m not sure what the person is asking. Do they mean the actual physical act of writing? Or do they mean everything involved from conception to finished product? Conception to finished product covers a lot of time because the imagination is triggered in countless ways.

What kind of things trigger a writer’s imagination? They can include song lyrics, historical events, a sentence in a book or magazine, a casual conversation, a new recipe or even a dream. Once an idea takes hold, I start a file. This is normally a physical file, but I also use computer files. I come up with a working title and when I run across photos, newspaper articles, reference books, possible character names, research about possible jobs for a character or snippets of information about the time period, I put them in the file.

During this phase, I collect possibilities that may be used to tell that story some day. The truth is, I have more files than I have time to write, but it’s comforting to know there is always another story gestating.

I like the word gestating because it means the development of something over a period of time and that’s what a book does. It develops over a period of time. Time that cannot be easily calculated because much of it takes place in the imagination where there are no clocks.

I’ll use Lady Runaway as an example. The book started with a dream scene that lodged itself firmly in my brain. I couldn’t forget it. The scene involved a young woman hiding in a 19th century London alley. She is pulling her hand, sticky with her own blood, away from her chest.

At the time I dreamed this, I was writing a Civil War novel, but I’m an avid reader of Regency romances. I love the wit and humor of the short traditional Regency and used these books as a writing reward. I’d read one or two every weekend to give myself a refreshing change from the Civil War time period.

Once the scene in the London alley got stuck in my brain, I started mentally fleshing out a story line. Trying to figure out why this woman was in the alley, why she had been knifed and what was going to happen to her next. I had read a lot about 19th century medicine so I knew a Regency doctor would be in this story. Who else could take care of her knife wound? Eventually, I outlined a possible story, but the real impetus for writing Lady Runaway came from the rejection of my Civil War novel.

An editor who read that submission (which would go on to be my first published historical romance–Tennessee Waltz) liked my writing style, but couldn’t use that particular manuscript. She asked me if I had any Regency manuscripts because they were hot and she needed manuscripts. I pitched my idea for the book that would become Lady Runaway. She liked it so I wrote furiously, submitted the manuscript, made the suggested revisions, and resubmitted it, but in the end that version of Lady Runaway was rejected.

While the basics of the story were there, I don’t think that version had gestated long enough. During the next year, no longer under the pressure of trying to write a book before an editor forgot who I was, I tweaked, poked and prodded Lady Runaway into a better story. That’s the story that Twilight Times Books published. How long did it take me to write Lady Runaway? I really don’t know. I didn’t mark the calendar the morning I awoke from that dream scene, but it was probably a year or so later when I pitched the idea. Then I had to write it and revise it.

I also seldom work on one writing project at a time. When I was working on Lady Runaway, I was also writing a humor column for the local newspaper, writing and editing an aviation newsletter, and trying to break into the magazine scene. Trying to cage the creative process with time limits isn’t easy and that’s why I tend to hem and haw when someone asks me “how long” it took me to write a book.


Dorking, England

The heavy brass doorknocker banged against the front door, startling Lady Riana Travistock into dropping the two portmanteaus. They thumped to the bare wood floor at her feet while she frowned at the door. Since the last of the household servants had left yesterday, she would have to answer the summons. Stalking across the foyer, she paused long enough to curve her mouth into a polite smile before opening the door.

"My dear Lady Riana!"

The smile froze on her face. Sir Hector Stalkings was supposed to be in London, not Dorking. An unladylike expletive exploded in her brain. She tried to soften her smile, but her mouth felt as starched as the cravat around Sir Hector's thick neck. "Sir Hector, what a... pleasant surprise."

Peering beyond her into the shadowed hallway, his brown gaze swept the room, stopping at the bags bunched on the inlaid oak floor. "What I hear is true? You're leaving us?"

Gossamer wings of panic unfurled in her breast. She had hoped to escape Dorking without seeing her father's friend. "You heard correctly. Pennywise and I are booked on this afternoon's stagecoach."

"Thank goodness I returned from London before you left," he said.

Good manners forced her backward when he started through the door. The scent of the late June roses blooming along the front portico wafted into the hall behind cloying waves of his Canterbury violet perfume.

"Stricken," he said, "absolutely stricken to hear you and Mrs. Pennywise have been forced to leave your home."

The wings of distress flapped against her ribs with the power of a kestrel fighting to be airborne as he stepped into the foyer. Only years of deportment lessons kept its drumming beat out of her voice.

"Thank you for your sentiments, but Mrs. Pennywise and I quite look forward to this change in our lives."

"Look forward to the change! How can you? I hear Pennywise is to retire to her sister's home in Woking. And you have secured a teaching position in London. What a brave face you have put on this disaster." Sir Hector shook his head as he closed the front door. "'Tis a sad day when Lady Riana Travistock is reduced to teaching someone elses' brats."

He hadn't heard the complete truth, but no one in Dorking knew about the jewels except her and Pennywise.

Recently voted "Book of the Week" at Long and Short Review, Ginger Hanson’s Lady Runaway is a Regency romantic adventure. "High tension and high risk escapades with impulsive, independent Lady Riana Travistock (a.k.a. Annie Davidson) keep the adrenaline pumping."

Noted by RT Book Reviews for her “fast-pace, rich in detail” writing, Ginger is also the author of two award-winning Civil War era novels. She lives in southeast Alabama with her husband and various rescued pets. When not writing, Ginger volunteers with the Friends of the Library. To maintain her sanity, she practices the art of Tai Chi, masquerading each week as a set leader.

In addition to writing historical romance, Ginger writes contemporary romance for The Wild Rose Press Sweetheart line. Feather’s Last Dance is available now, with Ellie’s Song due out in 2011.


Linda Acaster said...

Hi Ginger. Escaping with jewels, eh? Oh yes, that sounds interesting...

I like your use of a physical file. Can't beat a ringbinder for portability - and who's going to steal that left on a library desk?

I wish you well with "Lady Runaway".

Lindsay Townsend said...

Fascinating blog, Ginger! It's always interesting to know where writers get their ideas from.

I love the cover of your 'Lady Runaway' and your excerpt is very fast-moving and exciting. I wish you all the best with it.

You are most welcome to blog here again about your other novels.

Bekki Lynn said...

That certianly is a hard question. I've found most honestly expect a short and pat answer. When I try to explain the reality to them, their eyes glaze, their face gets this, I'm no longer listening look -- when you finally shut up, they say things like that's too much work. lol

I'm like you, get my ideas from so many places, but often song lyrics are a trigger.

'Lady Runaway' is a terrific title. Very intriguing.

Savanna Kougar said...

Ginger, so true. Between the actual germ of an idea or the whole movie playing in your head, it can be years.

I usually think in terms of penning the story, or typing it out, as far as time. Of course, then you have to include edits, etc.

But, like you said the imagination isn't caged by time itself.

Wonderful Regency excerpt!!!

Congrats on all your success, and more power to you.

Laurel said...

Ginger, it was very interesting to me to read about your process as a writer. I'm sorry I couldn't be at the book club when you spoke -- I heard it was great!

Celia Yeary said...

GINGER--thank you for visiting us.Lady Runaway sounds highly exciting and your excerpt does show a wonderful writing style. Best wishes with your novels with TWRP--Celia

Ginger Hanson said...

I'm glad you enjoyed my blog. I really appreciate the invitation to blog as I'm relatively new to the blogging scene.

I love the cover, too, Lindsay. And if you saw the first cover idea you'd understand even more why I think this one is so beautiful. Can I just say Nancy Drew fantasy gothic look?

Bouffant Blonde said...

I'm so glad you had that dream ... and followed it through to completion. I really enjoyed reading it!