My dear friend Susan Rosson Spain, author of THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA (which I illustrated), is celebrating the paperback release of her historical fiction THE DEEP CUT. This is a wonderful and touching novel, in which you can experience the Civil War through a very different perspective - the eyes of a mentally challenged young man. I recommend it. Susan is also an extremely active volunteer with Habitat for Humanity (hence, the photo with her building a house, which she does just about every weekend). I'm thrilled to have Susan here today... take it away Susan!
Like most people, and, I’ve found, most writers in particular, I’ve worn many hats in my personal and professional life. Mother. Optician. Maid. Chauffer. Gardener. But the hat with which I am able to draw the most writing parallels is my hardhat.
Yeah, that’s right. My hardhat.
I confess to you, fellow writers, that I am a Habitat for Humanity addict. I love the process of building a house, from the first day when volunteers arrive in heavy boots and work gloves, excitement flashing in their eyes, chainsaw or axe in hand, ready to clear all but the best trees and clear a “footprint” for a family’s new home, to that day at the end, the last work day, when the new wood floors gleam, and windows sparkle, and the house numbers are perfectly aligned on the mailbox post. I love the smell and feel of newly turned topsoil, and fresh lumber, and even caulk, roofing shingles, and paint. Sometimes the process is sensual overload. For me, writing a novel is much the same as building a house.
Whether you think you do or not, every writer—yes, every writer-- starts with a blueprint. You begin with some sort of plan, whether you actually are an outliner, or you let things evolve on their own. You always have some initial idea onto which you begin to build.
It might be a character who won’t leave you alone, like some funky little cottage you saw on a trip one time and can’t forget. Curly-q’s in the gables… purple downspouts. Or it might be a etting, a neighborhood that seems magical to you—something out of a crazy dream, where only the most amazing things, like time travel through your mother’s pantry, could happen. Or it could be a theme—some belief or commitment to which you simply must speak—and here, the Big Book that pops into my head is Charlotte’s Web.
All of these beginnings are blueprints of a sort. Once you begin to explore these blueprints, they will become the framework of your fiction. You are laying a foundation, you are setting studs, you are shaping the walls of your rooms and establishing paths through your amazing new home. When you connect these paths with essential doorways, you begin to have Story. Your house becomes lived-in. Your inhabitants laugh, and cry, and they love, and grieve, and hopefully they become entangled. Or maybe they even go their separate ways in the end. But they live there, for a time, in this structure you’ve built.
The sensual overload I experience in house-building can and perhaps should be present as well, when you build your story. Don’t ignore that dark place in the attic where the old secrets hide. Don’t bypass the basement and the fears that live there. And whatever you do, don’t avoid the middle of that house, the place where your characters react to one another through their lives, and where ultimately, they live, and grow, and change.
But most of all, perhaps: don’t forget that you are the architect of this house. You, and only you, and your vision for the house’s inhabitants, can open and close its doors. Give them reasons to do so. Let them breathe, let them live. Let them BE.
Susan Rosson Spain is the critically acclaimed author of THE DEEP CUT (Booklist, starred review), a young adult historical novel set against the backdrop of the Civil War. Her second book, 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA, is a picture-book-cum-travel-guide for children 6 and up (2010). Susan is a popular speaker at schools and writing conferences around the South and also serves as the President of her local Habitat for Humanity affilitate.
Susan has kindly agreed to give a free, signed and dedicated paperback copy of THE DEEP CUT to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below.