Where Writing Ideas Come From – Part Two

Shoes - reduced

I keep a lengthy list of story ideas. Some have materialized and have been published. Some are in the works. And some are just ideas. I list them and reference them periodically, letting potential story lines “free associate” somewhere in my brain, in hopes that I can retrieve them when I’m ready to move on to a new project.

Last time I described the origin of Autumn Colors, my first novel. Today I’ll focus on my second book, In Her Mother’s Shoes. When I tell you about the cover content, I expect you’ll have some idea about the source of the story.

The book’s cover features letters exchanged during World War II between my mother and my father, and some between her and other friends. One was with a young man who was a German prisoner of war. No one has been able to tell me if he ever made it home. Overlaid on the spread of letters is a pair of pink, satin dancing shoes. They are also my mother’s, from her early days and happiest memories, dancing to the tunes of the nineteen thirties and forties. She was a marvelous dancer.

She had a very tough early life. And even though she had relative security and the stability my father brought to our family, her early years spilled over into how she related to her children. She was a good woman who wanted to do the right things, but the damage done to her in her childhood often derailed her best intentions. The book’s character Katherine is modeled after my mother, although with a lot of literary license.

We learn what we live, so the saying goes. And so the children of Katherine reflect many of her behaviors, including feeling deeply but rarely showing those feelings. The main character, Meredith, appears somewhat cold and stoic early on. As she learns more about her mother’s background for the first time, she begins to see the parallels in her own behaviors and in her relationships with her own children.

Lest you assume that Meredith is modeled on me, let me set the record straight. I have no children, so much of the story line is pure speculation. Meredith takes a lot of risks and puts tremendous effort into understanding enough about her mother to grow to appreciate her. And to consciously work on changing her own behaviors with her children, so the negativity and harshness isn’t passed down to yet another generation. In the end, Meredith is able to honor her mother’s memory and forge more solid and loving relationships with her children.

When new writers are told to “write what they know,” it doesn’t necessarily mean always writing autobiographically – unless you choose to write a memoir instead of a novel. Rather, you can take pieces of your own life experience and weave a story around those pieces, asking a lot of what-ifs, inserting knowledge gained through education and relationships, and tying it up with a satisfying ending. Mine tend to be happy endings, but an ending can be satisfying while still tugging at your heartstrings. Or – if a sequel is planned – by implying that while things might be just grand at the moment, a new crisis is waiting just around the corner.

About Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse

I, like so many others, am a novelist struggling for recognition. My last three novels, THE EYES HAVE IT, IN HER MOTHER'S SHOES and STAR CATCHING, are available in e-book format through Amazon and other formats by request here or on my website. AUTUMN COLORS was my first novel and is still available through Amazon and B&N in multiple formats. My early writings are women's fiction, one also suitable for YA. My work-in-progress is a historical fiction about the Armenians who settled in Troy, NY in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Come visit me at my website: www.dawnlajeunesse.com.
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6 Responses to Where Writing Ideas Come From – Part Two

  1. mreedmccall says:

    I love books loosely based upon real life…my own upcoming book does this as well – but it’s a bit tricky sometimes, isn’t it? It took me quite a while to be able to create my characters as very separate people from the real life people who inspired them. I wonder, does it get easier with subsequent books? I’m just beginning the brainstorming phase for a sequel, and women’s fiction is all new ground for me (I had seven medieval romances out with HarperCollins/Avon a few years ago). I’m definitely going to look up your books. They sound very engaging! 🙂 Great post about the process of story ideas.


    • mtnwriter77 says:

      Better late than never – thanks for the comment you left on my blog. Somehow I just received notification, even though you wrote it in early December! Yes, it is challenging to draw from real life characters and yet have the book characters stand on their own. I’ve found that real life characters need a lot more development to make good story characters. But they make a solid foundation, because we know them well. Story characters, though, need to be somewhat larger than life to be interesting to readers. They need bigger strengths and more striking (but hopefully redeemable) flaws. Congrats on your books with HarperCollins/Avon – it is no small feat to land a traditional publisher these days! When is your new book coming out? Will you be self-publishing this time? It seems there are very strong camps on the pros and cons of traditional vs self-publishing.


      • mreedmccall says:

        Thanks for the reply – sometimes the internets are strange with delivery of messages. 🙂 I agree re: the need to expand real life characters to make them fiction-worthy. It’s a tough balance though. My new book is being released on February 3, 2015…and yes, this is my first entirely independently-released novel. The publishing world is changing so quickly! I still have one foot in the trad door, and have retained my agents etc., while HarperCollins/Avon retains rights to three of my published titles, but I regained rights to four titles they’d published and re-released them with help from a small publisher. Now I’m getting those back and well and doing this new one, which is an entirely different genre for me, being contemporary and Women’s Fiction/General Fiction ( the book is called Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven) entirely on my own.

        It’s a new and exciting (and sometimes daunting!) world for writers, isn’t it? How has your experience been so far in self-publishing?


  2. mtnwriter77 says:

    My learning curve in self-publishing has kept me from the level of independence that many indies have experienced in the last few years. Not really understanding the business (and prior to the explosion of the e-book industry), I published my first book through Author House. It cost a lot more than the ebook options now, but I didn’t have a clue how to get books to the on-line vendors, and I wanted a paperback option for book fairs, etc. They did a nice job, but they set minimums on pricing to ensure they get a big enough bite of the “profits.” At a time when folks are selling ebooks for $.99 or less, my considerably higher pricing has limited my ability to compete. Second book I took to Dog Ear Publishing (loved the name – NOT the way to choose a publisher). Actually, they were much more flexible about pricing and did an equally good job, including turning my roughly sketched cover idea into an appealing looking book and getting the book up on Amazon and B&N and Apple in record time. I still had to charge $2.99 for ebooks and (I think) 10.99 for the paperbacks. I’ve had steady but very slow sales. I know I need to go completely independent for the next book if I want to compete, but I admit to being intimidated by doing it all myself – akin to trying to be your own sub-contractor for building a house. As it turns out, my current book-in-progress was just torn apart by an editor, so I have to re-think not just how to fix it but whether it is worth doing rather than licking my wounds and moving on to a new project.

    What approach are you taking to self-publishing. Are you doing it all yourself or using a service?


    • mreedmccall says:

      Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven will be the first book I’ve done entirely myself, choosing and hiring out editing, formatting, and cover art aspects. Prior to this, I re-released four of my HarperCollins/Avon titles whose rights had reverted to me, with the help of a small publisher: Jen Talty and Bob Mayer at Cool Gus Publishing. They were just getting started at the time, and it was a good fit. I’m not able to produce new material very quickly (thanks to the day job), and I’m switching to an entirely new genre from my previous books, which adds to the complexity of marketing, so it ended up not being as good of a fit as time went on; ultimately, the mutual decision was made to go our separate ways.

      I considered the trad path, too, but this book is quite different from what is currently out there for Women’s Fiction…it hearkens back to a Fried Green Tomatoes style, and so after some back and forth with my agents and my editor at HarperCollins, I decided to go totally solo with it.

      So I hear you re: the learning curve. I decided to go solo in early October and the book went up for presale in early December, though it won’t be published until Feb 3; I wanted to have a little time to perhaps do some online marketing prior to its release and to be able to submit to a few review publications that require at least a two month lead prior to publication to consider reviewing. I had to search and find a person or group to hire, to handle the technical aspects for me, and it took quite a bit to get it up and into the form I wanted (which was to replicate as nearly as possible a traditionally published book), but I’m pleased with the result. However, I wasn’t really ready for the kind of outlay of resources to make it happen entirely to my vision. There was more I would have done if I had been able to do so, but I had to stick to my budget.

      Finding reputable people to work with is a difficult process. I ended up going with Bri Bruce Productions, based out of southern California; I found her through my interactions on the blogosphere when I was setting up my website/blog this past August (I decided to create a new one to go along with my two-genre writing career, now that I’m branching away from entirely medieval romance).

      Bri did the editing, formatting, and cover design and did a really nice job. It’s often a bit challenging whenever working with someone entirely new for the first time, especially via email, and there were a few bumps in the road, compounded by the compressed time frame, but it all worked out, and I am pleased with the end result.

      Who do you use for editing etc? I’ve looked around a bit, and that seems to be the most costly of all the services attached to independent publishing…which I suppose makes sense, since it’s such an important aspect of the finished product. I also think it’s really important that a book look professionally done, inside and out, and that was one of the primary reasons Bri’s work/portfolio attracted me. I like your cover art for In Her Mother’s Shoes – it’s unique and attractive!


      • mtnwriter77 says:

        I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one to experience bumps in the road to publication. I still don’t know what route I’ll take for my most current book – especially since it was blown to pieces by my recent editor. My first two books were edited by Terri Valentine and Mark Spencer, both of whom I’d met through Writers Digest University. Terri has had several romances published and contributes often to Writers Digest. She focuses on proper structure, grammar and punctuation, that kind of editing, though occasionally she would comment on aspects of the story she thought needed work. Mark is a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas. He is more of a big picture person, and ruthless about what should go and what should stay and what should be re-ordered. But I was happy with the end products we produced together with Autumn Colors and In Her Mother’s Shoes. I finished (so I thought) my most recent book, Transitions, in late December. I decided to go with an editor who was more in tune with what agents were accepting, as I wanted to try for a traditional publisher. I heard about Susanne Lakin, and long story short made arrangements with her. My last blog post describes the scathing critique she provided and my immediate reaction. I still don’t believe I was as far off base as she implied. But I admit I was working in a new genre – actually, trying to blend genres (women’s fiction and sci fi), and possibly wasn’t very good at it. She wasn’t at all kind or gentle, though I guess that wasn’t what I paid for. So I’m back to square one, trying to decide if I want to re-work Transitions or start over, possibly drawing from some of the women’s fiction aspects. The pricing for each of these ranged from $3.50/page to $5.00/page. Susanne actually was at the lower end, and provided the most detail in her critique, with a six page summary of impressions and comments on nearly every page of the manuscript.
        I work also, so my production is not as fast as I’d like it to be. It took me nearly 3 years to finish Transitions. I’m working up my motivation to go back to it and try to sort out what might be redeemable, and then turn it into a stand-alone story without all the sci fi/political aspects. Ugh.

        I agree, it’s baffling how much it costs to get a book out there – unless you’re satisfied with just and ebook AND you are technologically capable of formatting and uploading it yourself. I’m not sure I’ll ever have the patience to learn all I’d need to in order to do that. But that is the only way you can make decent money.

        I’ve rambled enough:-).


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