As we traveled up to visit my parents for the Independence Day holiday,we cut through a small country town and had to stop at a red light. Looking up at the street sign, I laughed, “oh look, dear, it’s Cedar Street!” In Joy and her sequel, the main characters live on Cedar St. However, this particular street looked as if it had its height in 1961 and never regained it. It was also across from a penitentiary.
“Not exactly how I pictured it,” I mused.
There was a commercial building at the corner. “Is that Maloneys?” my husband teased. “It looks like a bail bond place.”
It was, in fact, a nondescript generic bar offering long necks for 1.99. “I think Dominic could do better than that,” I joked.
Still I wondered whether there was a Cedar Street like I’d imagined, and while out driving one day, I found it. It was in Indiana after all, in a historic district so all the commercial buildings were still preserved in 19th century glory (huzzah! I didn’t see anything that could be Maloneys, but plenty of buildings that could have been the microbrewery). Driving up Cedar, it was as if my imagination had come to life in front of me. All the houses were between the 1880s – 1920s and all well maintained. I could almost picture Peggy Maloney tending a flower garden in front of one house. Were I not leery of stopping to take pictures of homes, I might have done so, but I was also navigating a 12-passenger van in a narrow street with cars parked on either side. Of course, this town wasn’t exactly bordered by corn and soybean fields (perhaps 30 years ago) and it wasn’t at all what I had pictured when I thought of Tudor. But I still drove off with a smile on my face.
Why did this mean so much to me? I guess it was an affirmation that I kept the descriptions real. To an author, it’s immensely satisfying.
My sister and I were having a conversation today, and I mentioned I was hoping to offer Joy and her sequel at a church bazaar this autumn. As the discussion continued, we talked about how difficult it is sometimes to peg a label on a novel like Joy. For example, being a work of Catholic fiction, there wasn’t much choice but to put it under Inspirational Fiction. Being a love story, Christian Romance also applied. But it seemed to me a little banal to put Joy there, as if the product of my sweat, time and heart suddenly got put on the shelf of the Pink Sugar Department. All sweet and no substance (note: not all Christian Romance or Inspirational Fiction belongs on this shelf, either). It was my hope that I could write a decent story but avoid the Pink Sugar. My sister summed it up for me a bit.
SHE: “Yeah, it’s hard talking about your book because once you say ‘oh, it’s Inspirational Fiction,’ I always feel like I need to add, ‘But it’s real, it’s not Hallmark.'”
ME: [thinking of the Romance label] “Nor is it a Harlequin.”
SHE: “Totally. Nothing starting with H need apply.”
I love sisters. Mine makes me laugh when I need it.
So why did I write Catholic Fiction in the first place? Because I’m Catholic, for one. Because we Catholics need books to read, and the realm of Catholic fiction is sparse. I’m not saying that Joy is the solution to that; please God, don’t let me be that naive. Are my books going to be for Catholics only? No. I already know of some non-Catholics who were gracious enough to give Joy a try and enjoyed the read. I do not separate my faith from my writing because I believe one’s faith should permeate their life. So my characters are Catholic, but they are also human characters. The hero has a human fault. He’s not the tormented demon lover that mainstream fiction seems to relish at the moment (and don’t get me on the subject of Vampires, please), and the things Joy faces in her life are the sort of things that meet up with you or me in everyday life. That is precisely my intent. You won’t find me writing, I hope, anything that couldn’t feasibly occur out there. Some Catholics write harrowing apocalyptical novels, others great and amusing fairy-tale adaptations. I know; I’ve read them. There are Catholic thrillers, Catholic whodunnits, and even apparently a new Catholic novel about philosophy. My niche is the Everyday. I just only wish there was a category label for that.
The spoiler! I’ve already mentioned my original inspiration for Maloneys Pub, but the main setting for the sequel came from a tiny picture of an old house in some blog, and then I had to find something to match it with a floor plan so I could imagine the layout. One evening I hit the jackpot when this jumped out at me:
Now of course in the sequel I add some things here and there that don’t go with this blueprint, but it was fun looking through pictures of Queen Anne homes and trying to find “just the right one.” I linked back to the original site through the picture, if you’d like to see more. It’s like window shopping, or house-hunting without the mortgage woes. 🙂 This is the fun part of novel writing! However, I won’t tell you why this is going to be the main setting for a portion of the book, although if you’ve read the first story you can rather guess that one.
Once upon a time there was a house. And in that house there was a Christmas tree, and under the tree was a little girl. To be more specific, she was laying on her stomach on the floor in front of the tree, gazing at her mother’s collection of ceramic Christmas houses, imagining that if they were real, who would live in them? What would their story be?
Then the little girl grew up. She obtained a collection of Christmas village pieces of her own (incidentally, these pieces are now garaged as our fifth child is absolutely the most loving kid but nevertheless a human wrecking ball). And one Christmas, five years ago, she looked at her newest piece and wondered who would own it? What kind of person would own this tavern?
By the time I started writing, the image of the Pub rather changed a bit (diamond paned windows, the bar being on the right of the front door, green sign, etc.), but in case you’re wondering why there’s an Irish Pub in a Tudor building, there you have it! 😉
The first idea I ever had about Joy in the Ordinary was the hero’s name. I thought of it about fifteen years ago, actually. I was in the midst of typing up my incredibly long, poorly researched Civil War novel (later banished to an attic) and the name just came to mind. I began a vague idea about the fellow, only one part of which survived the passage of time–what kind of girl he would eventually marry. Back then I had no thought of writing a novel set in present-day. I was an awkward teenager who felt out of touch with the fad items of the time, and I thought that one had to be “in” with all that in order to succeed in writing. When I set out to write Joy, I figured adding too many fad items would quickly date the book, rather like watching the 1995 remake of Sabrina and seeing what was then the “hot” technological items–Harrison Ford’s car phone with antennae? Oh, and that fads are for the most part ridiculous. So I gave it a shot.
Probably the most fun part of writing, for me at least, is finding out where your characters go. What motivates them? Where are they going to end up? Who do they meet along the way? Sometimes its maddening when they don’t do what you want them to do–when the plot veers off in a new direction but then eventually you come to terms with it and it ends up being better than your original thought (or worse, and then you scrap it and go back to the crossroads). I literally had to rethink the end of my story two weeks before it went to editing! One character was added four months before I finished the book, and he became so essential to the plot I had to rework four chapters! At times like that I think of Tolkien and something he said about his hero Aragorn. Apparently he had no idea he was going to include Aragorn until he “ran into him” in the chapter of the Fellowship regarding the Inn of the Prancing Pony (or something like that)! Amazing.
I do my best planning for writing while doing the chores. Folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, vacuuming, watering the garden, that sort of thing. Usually if I have time to do the chores, the children are safely occupied. 😉 Sometimes I write these ideas down, but mostly I mentally shelve them until the moment comes up in the plot when I can use them–then I write a lot faster and longer that evening, as the idea’s had time to take shape and I’ve already pictured how it’s going to play out. I’m not sure which is best or easiest come to think on it, but then, is there really a hard and fast method that works for every writer?