How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author

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9780312354282: How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author
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How many people would kill to be a bestselling novelist? Especially one like Janet Evanovich.Writers want to know how a bestselling author thinks, writes, plans, and dreams her books. And they are primed for a book from Janet Evanovich that tells, in a witty Q&A format:
- How she comes up with such remarkable characters
- How she nails the perfect name every time
- How she finds out insider details
- Just how she sets up those masterful plots
- What the life of a full-time writer is really like
- What she'd tell an aspiring author about the publishing industry
- And much, much more!

How I Write details the elements of writing and publishing a novel, and addresses all categories of fiction-from mystery/thriller/action titles to romance; from stand-alone narratives to series. It offers practical and inspiring advice on such subjects as structuring a plot and handling rejection. And it combines one of today's most successful fiction writers with Ina Yalof, a published non-fiction writer who teaches creative fiction. HOW I WRITE is the perfect reference for anyone looking to improve their writing, and for those fans who are hungry to find out more about just how Janet Evanovich ticks.

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About the Author:

Janet Evanovich is the author of the Stephanie Plum books, including One for the Money and Sizzling Sixteen, and the Diesel & Tucker series, including Wicked Appetite. Janet studied painting at Douglass College, but that art form never quite fit, and she soon moved on to writing stories. She didn't have instant success: she collected a big box of rejection letters. As she puts it, "When the box was full I burned the whole damn thing, crammed myself into pantyhose and went to work for a temp agency." But after a few months of secretarial work, she managed to sell her first novel for $2,000. She immediately quit her job and started working full-time as a writer. After a dozen romance novels, she switched to mystery, and created Stephanie Plum. The rest is history. Janet's favorite exercise is shopping, and her drug of choice is Cheeze Doodles. She and her husband live in New Hampshire, in house with a view of the Connecticut River Valley.

Ina Yalof is a full-time writer with several published books and countless magazine articles. She teaches writing at Dartmouth College's continuing education program.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Part 1 
Creating Great Characters
 
How a Character Is Created · Supporting Characters · What’s in a Name · The Importance of Research · Creating Series Characters
 
How a Character Is Created
 
Q. I’m finally ready to start my novel. What are the important things I should know when creating my characters?
 
JANET. A well-developed character is multidimensional, with quirks and flaws, dreams, motivations, and values. A mystery novel’s major character—the protagonist—must always want something. That desire is what sends him out in the middle of the night looking for a criminal when he could just as easily be sleeping in a warm, comfy bed. When something or someone stands in the way of your character getting what he wants, you get the beginnings of conflict. It’s the conflict that sets up the story. How that character meets the challenge and overcomes the obstacles of the conflict defines that character.
 
Q. Your characters are funny, unpredictable, often eccentric—and yet they’re still so believable. How do you do it?
 
JANET. All writers are people watchers. If you want characters that ring true, take a really close look at the people around you: that buttoned-up old lady on the train as well as the girl with fourteen facial piercings who hangs out at your local coffeehouse. Watch your hairdresser, your dog walker, your dentist. (Okay, maybe not your dentist.) Begin with them, and then let your imagination run wild. Also, keep your ear to the ground and develop an ability to listen. No matter where I am, I’m eavesdropping on someone—at a lunch counter, in a waiting room, in those unending lines at the airport. I’m always recording the moment. Everything you see and hear and experience can find its way into a story. Just store all this stuff up in your brain and retrieve it as you need it.
 
Television and movies are another source of inspiration for characters. I find it’s difficult for me to read when I’m writing (and I’m always writing), but I can relax with a half-hour sitcom or I can slip a DVD into my schedule without having it intrude on my creative process. I also take my cues from real life. Many of my daughter’s disastrous dating experiences show up in my books in one form or another. Everyday life is a limitless resource.
 
For example: When I was growing up, my best friend was a boy. We liked to watch the trains that rumbled over the tracks behind his house. And we liked to build soapbox cars and race them down the Beryl Street hill. And okay, I’m finally going to admit it . . . it was this same boy who inspired the famous garage scene where Stephanie Plum and Joe Morelli play choo-choo.
 
When I was a kid I didn’t ordinarily play with Joseph Morelli. He lived two blocks over and was two years older. “Stay away from those Morelli boys,” my mother had warned me. “They’re wild. I hear stories about the things they do to girls when they get them alone.”
 
“What kind of things?” I’d eagerly asked.
 
“You don’t want to know,” my mother had answered. “Terrible things. Things that aren’t nice.”
 
From that point on, I viewed Joseph Morelli with a combination of terror and prurient curiosity that bordered on awe. Two weeks later, at the age of six, with quaking knees and a squishy stomach, I followed Morelli into his father’s garage on the promise of learning a new game. . . .
 
Old man Morelli used the garage to take his belt to his sons, his sons used the garage to take their hands to themselves, and Joseph Morelli took me, Stephanie Plum, to the garage to play train.
 
“What’s the name of this game?” I’d asked Joseph Morelli.
 
“Choo-choo,” he’d said, down on his hands and knees, crawling between my legs, his head trapped under my short pink skirt. “You’re the tunnel, and I’m the train.”
 
I suppose this tells you something about my personality. That I’m not especially good at taking advice. Or that I was born with an overload of curiosity. Or maybe it’s about rebellion or boredom or fate. At any rate, it was a one-shot deal and darn disappointing, since I’d only gotten to be the tunnel, and I’d really wanted to be the train.
 
—One for the Money
 
Q. What are some of the elements that make up a well-drawn character?
 
JANET. Above all, there has to be honesty. One of the things that has helped me keep my character Stephanie Plum honest over the years is that Stephanie thinks a lot like me, and so when she is confronted with a situation, I ask myself: What would I do? I’m a very average person from a small central Jersey town where my dad worked in a factory, so I know who Stephanie is and where she’s coming from. And I have a daughter who is Stephanie’s age. So with all of that, I have a pretty good grip on that character.
 
People like Stephanie because they “get” her. She’s not an eccentric character, even though she does a lot of eccentric things. Maybe her job is eccentric, and what happens to her is eccentric, but you can sit down and you can have a piece of pizza with her. You can go shopping with Stephanie—although you might not let her drive your car.
 
Q. How did you come up with Stephanie Plum in the first place? She’s so perfect—but in an imperfect sort of way.
 
JANET. I wrote romance novels before starting the Stephanie Plum series, so I’d already tested the waters. And I had a good idea of what kind of a heroine I wanted. She should be someone who was adaptable and resilient, but she should be struggling to pull together all the parts of her personality.
 
I stepped out of the shower and shook my head by way of styling my hair. I dressed in my usual uniform of spandex shorts and halter style sports bra, and topped it off with a Rangers hockey jersey. I took another look at my hair and decided it needed some help, so I did the gel, blow-dry, hair spray routine. When I was done, I was several inches taller. I stood in front of the mirror and did the Wonder Woman thing, feet spread, fists on hips. “Eat dirt, scumbag,” I said to the mirror. Then I did the Scarlett thing, hand to my heart, coy smile. “Rhett, you handsome devil, how you do go on.”
 
—Four to Score
 
Actually, if you look closely, Stephanie’s role in the series is kind of like Jerry Seinfeld’s in his TV show in that everything in the story revolves around her. As you get to know her better, you learn that as a kid she wanted to be an intergalactic princess. She wanted to marry a hero. She wanted to be a movie star. She wanted to fly. And now her aspirations are to pay her rent on time, to have the respect of her peers, to have a decent car—and okay, she still wants to marry a hero. She’s just like you and me, struggling to be a good person in an imperfect world.
 
In the end, I simply wanted a heroine that I could relate to—a New Jersey–type heroine. I wanted someone who had the same familial guilt that I did. My entire life was ruled by pot roast. At five o’clock at night, the pot roast was done, and God, don’t be late. Stephanie is constantly worrying about that damn pot roast. Her mother is always saying to her, “You gotta come home, I’m having a nice chicken tonight. And pineapple upside-down cake for dessert.” And, of course, Stephanie is totally sucked in by the pineapple upside-down cake.
 
My mother was at the screen door. “Stephanie,” she called. “What are you doing sitting out there in your car? You’re late for dinner. You know how your father hates to eat late. The potatoes are cold. The pot roast will be dry.”
 
Food is important in the Burg. The moon revolves around the earth, the earth revolves around the sun, and the Burg revolves around pot roast. For as long as I can remember, my parents’ lives have been controlled by five-pound pieces of rolled rump, done to perfection at six o’clock.
 
—One for the Money
 
Q. How much of Stephanie is autobiographical?
 
JANET. Stephanie and I share a lot of history, and we have a lot in common. We’re both from New Jersey and we both graduated from Douglass College. I learned to drive in a ’53 powder blue Buick, the same one Stephanie occasionally drives. We’re both Cheez Doodle addicts who have owned a hamster, and we have shared similar embarrassing experiences. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Stephanie is a completely autobiographical character, but I will admit to knowing where she lives.
 
Stephanie is younger and slimmer and braver than I am. Because she is not of my generation, my daughter,  Alex—who is closer to Stephanie’s age—is enlisted to make sure I don’t mess up, generationally speaking, that is. Alex takes me riding on the back of her Ducati, coaches me on clothes and music selection, drags me out to pickup bars (for research purposes!!), and keeps my four-letter word vocabulary up to date.
 
Q. I have heard writers talk about the importance of “rooting for” a character. What’s that all about?
 
JANET. If you make a character real and vulnerable and kind, as soon as you put that character in jeopardy or any type of distress, the reader will always root for that person to win, or succeed, or make it out safely. To make a character vulnerable, just keep him a little bit unsure of himself and his choices. That’s one way of connecting the reader with the character, which is what you want. It also keeps him wondering what’s next....

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