Secrets Behind the Books

My first novel was not Twining Vines…it was a young adult novel written in third person. I wrote it when I was sixteen, and the main character was Lily McSweeney. Gwen Peale, the culinary school student in Twining Vines, was a major character in my first novel.

Naming my characters is a meticulous process. I typically go to to look up names by meaning. Hannah, for example, means God’s grace. Some names, like Skip, just feel right for the character, and those characters practically name themselves. I recently learned I gravitate toward older names, which is not ideal for contemporary fiction, so now I check name trends by decade and rename characters as needed.

For the actual writing, I use the Scrivener app on an iPad mini in a keyboard case I carry with me everywhere...just in case inspiration strikes. I enjoy writing in coffee houses among writerly friends, or at home with a feline muse, soft lighting, and a cup of loose-leaf tea.

Most inspiration hits me while I am driving, taking a shower, or in any other situation that is utterly inconvenient.

I tend to take weeks or even months perfecting the first few chapters of a novel, and I eventually speed up to a chapter a day or a few a week as I get near the end. I typically write in bursts of inspiration and do not have a set schedule until I get close to the end of a book and set a specific deadline I want to meet.

My process for finishing a book is just as detailed as my process for starting one. I must finish on a holiday or some sort of special day. Why? I don’t know. Why not? My very first book (Reaching the Shore) I finished on New Year’s Eve. That’s when the tradition started. I finished Twining Vines on April 7 (back when it was called Amber Vines), which is the birthday of a good friend and fellow Furman grad. Once I complete a manuscript, I celebrate by buying a mini ice cream cake, writing the novel title on the cake in gel icing, lighting a candle in the shape of the book number, making a wish, blowing out the candle, smiling into a camera, and endulging!

I chose a multiple-narrator point of view style because of how much I enjoyed Faulkner's As I Lay Dying in high school. Since then, I've discovered many other wonderful authors with multiple narrators, such as Jodi Picoult and Ginny Yttrup. The latter is nowmy writing coach. (She's awesome and you should hire her.)

I added Chapter One of Twining Vines after I had written half the novel per my original outline. In my opinion, it made the book 100% better.

Branches of Autumn is my third attempt at planning a sequel to Twining Vines. In my first idea, Samantha and Oliver Brighton were the main characters. In my second idea, Lark Rayne (Millie’s harp student) was the main character. I hope to someday turn that second idea into a YA novel.

Bits of Hannah’s dialogue were taken directly from my cousin Alex’s speech.

I learned to play the harp as a result of conducting research for the scene in Twining Vines where Millie is tuning her harp. I realized how affordable Celtic harps are and eventually took an evening class at CPCC with a wonderful instructor…Christine Van Arsdale.

When I outlined my initial ideas for Twining Vines, Peggy made baskets, not dolls, and the idea of Peggy teaching Hannah her hobby was more pronounced. The original title was Woven Into Every Heart. Then I changed the title to Amber Vines, and finally Twining Vines.

Jasper was originally an ordinary boy and a minor character in Twining Vines. A friend at work suggested that it would be nice for him to have feelings for Hannah, perhaps if he also had Down syndrome. I liked the idea of a love interest for Hannah, but I thought two children with Down syndrome in the same cul-de-sac would be entirely too coincidental, so he needed a different impediment. Thus, Jasper the burn survivor, now one of my favorite and most heart-wrenching characters, was reborn.

I try to include at least one feline in each novel. My Siberian cat worked for several yearsas a therapy animal, and we volunteered together in a convalescent home. She has her own Facebook page here.