The Prolific Writer



adjective \prə-ˈli-fik\

: producing a large amount of something

Apparently that defines me as an author. Since August 2012, I have published four books. Four! In sixteen months. Recently, I watched this interview Charlie Rose did with author Donna Tartt. She just released The Goldfinch, about 10 years after her last book. One book in 10 years! She says she’s tried to write faster, but doesn’t enjoy it.

I can’t even imagine taking 10 years to write a book. Then again, I wasn’t writing when I was in my 20s (or 30s, or…). When I started writing two years ago, I was already past the midpoint of my existence, and still had a lot of stories to tell. So, yes, I write fast. I slow down to edit. But this is what I do (I’m sure Ms. Tartt isn’t waiting tables on the side, but she must subsist on something other than what I imagine is a pretty good advance). This is my full-time job. So I think I’m producing what I should be producing.

Chocolate Fondue was written in November 2012 during NaNoWriMo, and edited in the months after that. Bits of Broken Glass was written from March through June of this year, and edited for three months before its publication in September. Bittersweet Chocolate, the new book, was written during Camp Nano (which is National Novel Writing Month in July) and edited this fall.

I do understand authors who take more time to write. Mostly, they have a lot of other balls to juggle: parenting, working, traveling. Life is complicated! Author Adriana Trigiani (can’t wait to meet her tomorrow!) has written 13 books, and I think her first one came out in 2001.  Author Ann Hood had her first book published 25 years ago, and has about 20 books in print. She has stated that it takes a year or two for her to complete a book, and I understand, because she travels and teaches and parents. Author James Patterson has written a ton of books (click on his name to see). He’s written 95 novels since 1976 – that’s prolific!

The Story Behind “Chocolate for Breakfast”

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Last summer, while I was trying desperately to conquer debilitating back pain, I decided it was time, finally, to write.  A dream for thirty years that was set aside due to circumstances, this was my chance.  So I started to write “my story.”  And my story would be about the most pivotal year of my life, my junior year of college spent in Fribourg, Switzerland.

But something happened.  I started to realize that, while my story may have been important to me, it didn’t necessarily make for good reading.  There were plenty of funny anecdotes, most of them involving mangled language and translations, but a compelling story?  Not so much.

I lived in Switzerland from September 1978 until early July 1979.  For those of you who can remember, there were no cell phones, no computers, internet, e-mail, voice messages, texts, instant sharing of photographs, or Skype.  A standard air mail letter took about a week to reach the States (and one from home took a week to arrive).  Long-distance telephone calls were limited; I was advised to call home only once – at Christmas.  “Care packages” from home were ridiculously expensive to send via air freight, but it took about six weeks by boat (the jeans I requested in October arrived in December).

I began to write about that year; however, I created a new character named Bernadette and set her on a journey.  Bernadette’s story is no one else’s; she’s not based on anyone I know or knew.  In fact, with one or two exceptions (known only to those who spent the year in Switzerland with me), all the characters are made up.  But the town is real, the streets are real.

Ann Hood’s debut novel

So how does one write about events without having fully experienced them?  I remember something author Ann Hood said.  Her first novel, “Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine,” featured a young woman named Rebekah, who desperately wanted a nose job.  Ann Hood never had a nose job, yet she wrote so convincingly about the pain and angst Rebekah felt that her publishers, when meeting the author for the first time, believed she’d had a rhinoplasty.  Rather, Ann Hood tapped into the emotion.  I tried to do that with Bernadette.  And Bernie just kind of evolved, as characters do.  I hadn’t created an outline of how the story would go; in fact, the first time my editor read it, she didn’t like the ending at all.  I had to agree; it wasn’t good enough and I changed it completely.

If you read my debut novel, I hope you enjoy it.  Some writers will say that the first book is simply “practice.”  I didn’t view “Chocolate for Breakfast” that way at all.  I’m hard at work on my second book, and I’m grateful to be doing what I love.

Meeting Ann Hood

In 1989, I read a book called “Three Legged Horse.” I was 31, single, living in Pawtucket, RI, and wanting more from what I believed was an unfulfilled, unhappy life.  Like so many books before it, “Three Legged Horse” helped me to escape my boredom and burdens for a while. The book’s author was from Rhode Island, like I was.  She was from West Warwick, I was from Warwick.  She wrote about places close to home. Her book was fiction, but I knew the real band called Three-Legged Horse.  She and I were similar in age.  And she was doing what I had always wanted to do: write.

My mother used to tell everyone how I had started reading and writing at an early age (four? five?), and in school, I was the first one to finish a reading assignment.  I would beg my mother to drive me to the public library on Sandy Lane, so I could take out three or four books at a time.  I finished those books so quickly that Mom would drive back in a week so I could borrow more.  I was reading ahead of my age; in fact, my parents were concerned that, at age 12, I was reading “Manchild in the Promised Land,” but I wanted to devour every book I could.  And when they read my written assignments, my mom and dad told me I should be a writer, that I had a gift.

But, as they say on television, “life comes at you fast.” My father died suddenly, in 1979, while I was spending my junior year of college abroad.  My mother was a widow at 50, with three daughters, one still in college and one yet to go.  Circumstances changed everything, including my dream of becoming a writer.  No longer did my mother smile and look into the distance and tell me I should be a writer. Our house was filled with sadness and worry.

After graduation, it was imperative that I work, so I accepted jobs I didn’t really want, and spent the next thirty years in fields unsuited to my creative spirit. Six months ago, I left my full-time job, with my husband’s support and encouragement. And I started to write again. So many stories in my head! Something made me pick up “Three Legged Horse” for a second time. Perhaps it was because Ann Hood had returned to Rhode Island, and I still felt a connection, even though I’d never met her.

My first book, a novel, is taking shape. I know there are many revisions ahead, and I’ve struggled with expressing some of the character emotions. One particular passage has proved difficult, and I’ve avoided writing anything about it – it’s like it didn’t want to be written.

Last evening I finally met Ann Hood. She spoke to us, a group of men and women, about her love of reading and writing, and her career path. She shared funny stories about her family, and related grippingly painful heartbreak. She signed two of her books that have meant the most to me. I left with a heart full of gratitude and inspiration.  Back home, it was late. But I couldn’t sleep. I needed to write. And somehow, that passage that has been so hard for me to write, was written.