Sunday, March 4, 2007

Getting To Know Caren!

1) When did you start writing? Or if you've been writing all your life, then when and how did you decide to pursue publication?

I started writing, with absolutely no idea what I was doing, in 2000. I did it to escape the mind-numbing tedium of my work as an electrical engineer. I was inspired by a girl at work whom I didn't know well, but who was a real character. I wrote a completely fictional story about her (that was, I'm ashamed to admit, a bit mean-spirited but completely hilarious) and shared it with my good friends. One friend had been a member of RWA and my local chapter, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, and she suggested that I join.

I realize now that she saw a spark (quite a small one) in my writing and meant to encourage me. Like many, I thought my writing was brilliant at the time, but later discovered it needed lots of work! I'm blessed with wonderful - and tactful - friends.

2) What books/authors have influenced you?

Since joining RWA, I have been influenced by the groundwork many brilliant authors have laid. From an educational and mentoring standpoint, I owe huge debts of gratitude to my dear friends Sabrina Jeffries, Claudia Dain, Liz Carlyle, Virginia Kantra and Deb Marlowe.

From an inspirational standpoint, I owe debts to Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jennifer Crusie. Why? Because they are both pantzers and slow writers like me! I know if they can do it and enjoy success, I can too. You can't buy that sort of inspiration.

3) Describe your writing process.

There's a process? Oh, yes, I recall other people have one of those. As mentioned above, I am a pantzer. Not by design, but because I can't teach my brain a better way. My books are almost completely character driven and that is what always comes to me first: the people. Once I have these wonderful people, I have to figure out a situation to put them in that will highlight where they need to grow and enable them to do that. Easier said than done!

This thing they call "plotting" usually involves many fits and starts, followed by long periods of "marination". The marination time, like with all good recipes, varies each time I need it. Unfortunately, I have learned enough and become disciplined enough to continue working even when my story isn't. Because of that, I started my last book 3 times and got about 1/2 to 2/3 written each time before I figured out why it wasn't quite right (though both discarded stories were good) and how to fix it. My dream is to get to the point in my career where this is no longer necessary and I can write more than one book a year. Hey, I said it was a dream.

And please, nobody mention color-coded index cards or detailed, scene-by-scene outlines or my head will explode!

4) Tell us about your current Work In Progress and what is next for you?

The book is about a chef, Sarah, and a building contractor, Luke. They are great characters and I know oodles and gobs about them, their histories, their heartbreaks, their families and the town they live in (Laurel Mountain, North Carolina). What I don't know is exactly what happens in their book. It's marinating.

5) Any advice for others or personal observations?

The best advice I can give anyone is: respect your process. Even if, like me, you don't really have one. I have put myself through untold traumas trying to follow other writers' recipes (including color-coded index cards and detailed, scene-by-scene outlines). None of them worked for me.

Why not? Well, everyone's brain is wired a certain way. It's quite difficult to force your brain to operate in another fashion. I was quite successful, for instance, in filling out color-coded index cards and in coming up with detailed, scene-by-scene outlines. Did they help my books? Not at all. That is because my characters don't come alive on index cards or outlines. They come alive when I write. So, until I start writing, I have no idea how they will react to people or situations. In other words, I have no idea what the "plot" will be. I don't really need to. I simply need to know how they should feel toward their situation and those around them when the book ends. How they get there ends up being an organic extension of who they are.

Plus, the marinade fills in the blanks! Anyone else find plot to be the last thing you know about your book?


Aunty Cindy said...

All right, Caren! You are definitely making up for your late start here. Can you please teach your old aunty how to post a piccie with each post. Since we have so many participants I think it would be a GREAT idea for each post to have a pic so readers can immediately identify us.

Oh, and don't feel alone about your characters "running the show". Mine never behave quite like I plan either, and I LOVE when that happens.

Aunty C

Joan said...


I love reading your posts on any subject. And I agree about color coded index cards...brain explosion immient.

What a great photo and....ability to insert it into your post. Hmmmm....maybe I could draw a stick figure.....


Caren Crane said...

You guys are silly! You can insert a pic into your posts by hitting the "add picture" icon on the toolbar above the box where you compose your post. You can pull it from a website, a file on your PC or a CD ROM (like I did).

Don't worry, Joan, I'll post lots more about plotting difficulties and aneurisms, I'm sure!

Anna Campbell said...

Caren, I really think you're the 'C' twin and I'm the 'K' twin. I've tried all that stuff with interviews and star signs and coloured cards. AAAAARRRRGGGGHHH! And all it does is turn my brain to concrete. What happens is I get a couple of people who take up residence in my head and say, "Schwartz, get thee to a notebook or a computer or we'll drive you mad." They know who they are. Often I don't until I've finished the book. Then they interact until they get what they want - an ending where they've found their soulmate. Oh, dear, I really sound like I've been possessed, don't I? But they really are alive to me and I get to know them the way I get to know real people - gradually, with a few hiccups along the way, and respecting they'll grant me intimacy in their own time. Mind you, if we're talking intimacy, they're usually after plenty of that.......