Anne McAllister is at the bottom of the revision well, anticipating the moment she can push the "send" button (how's that for mixing metaphors?) and have a life again.
In the meantime she's celebrating her anniversary today -- and revising.
The first time I sat down to write a book (as an adult), I had two characters, a house, a horse, and a happy ending.
Somewhere along the line, I think the horse got lost (but it's been a while now and maybe he did reappear in the final draft. He was an in-and-out sort of character). The hero and heroine stayed. The house stayed. And eventually I got to the happy ending.
Sometimes I wonder.
But the answer is, I think, that every time I got stuck I kept dipping into the well of experiences I'd had for the first 30 odd (very odd) years of my life.
I had no idea that I would be using them in a book when I was having them, believe me. But they proved my way of getting from beginning to end.
My heroine moved to Wisconsin from California to teach about the same way The Prof and I moved to the midwest and for exactly the same reason. The house she moved into was the one I see out my kitchen door. The horse was one that bucked off my daughter regularly -- which could be why he came and went in the book. And the character called Salty owed a lot to a very salty gent named Jack who seemed more fiction than fact even though I actually knew him.
Dipping into the well of my life didn't stop there. The hero, Colin, was an archaelogist because I had a son who was mad about Raiders of the Lost Ark. (If you want a dip in that well, check out the link to the original trailer).
I needed a reason to get Colin home from Yucatan (and thus have a book in which the two main characters actually met). Isn't it lucky, then, that a couple of good friends of mine were also regularly malarial? Not that they actually thought so -- or that I asked them. Besides being malarial, both of them are also priests. I kept the malaria and threw out the roman collars. You have to draw the line somewhere.
What I learned from writing that book was that "where I get my ideas" is as simple as remembering where I've gone and what I've seen and who I've met. I may start out with a couple of deliberate dips into a particular well, for example, going to bull-riding school was done with story aforethought, you might say.
But the things that happened there -- who I met and what I saw and heard -- none of that was predictable. It was pure serendipity, and I'm still amazed how much of it got into The Cowboy and The Kid.
The French bulldog, Ted, in The Santorini Bride came from stories about a friend's charming canine, Chuck. And anyone who reads my blog or Kate Walker's knows that everytime the cat called Sid turns up in my book, there is A Cat of Superior Breeding (ACOSB) in Lincolnshire preening and looking around for autographs to sign.
At the moment I'm dipping into my well of remembered crushes from my high school days, so I can give Anny authentically humiliating emotional intensity when she is face to face as an adult with the man she loved from afar back then. It's not hard -- that emotional intensity isn't very far below the surface even now.
And I'm watching DVDs of a physics course in preparation for understanding my next hero (like I said, sometimes you have to deliberately fill that well). But not everything will be new. I'm also going back to my summers on the beach as a kid, reliving the sun and the sand and the sea. I don't know how much of it I'll use but I'm glad it's there. And what else I'll need, I expect I'll discover along the way.
Sometimes these bits of serendipity appear because people I knew 'back then' have, bless their hearts, gone on to have wonderful exciting interesting lives of their own. And they share them with me.
Growing up I had a good friend who colored way better than I did. This is not surprising. I was not artistic. Everyone colored better than I did. But especially -- memorably -- Melody.
She says she never thought she was artistic because she couldn't draw. As my ability extended only as far as drawing dead trees in winter -- without color -- I begged to disagree.
And I'm right (!) because Melody Crust has gone on to become a fabulous fabric artist. Her work blows me away.
And the minute I saw it, I knew I wanted to write about a fabric artist. Mine turned into Ally Maruyama, who became PJ Antonides's wife. I don't think Ally would ever have come to life without Melody's work to inspire her.
So what's in your well?
Which bits of your own life -- or your friends' -- have you used in your own creative work?
It doesn't have to be fiction. It can be poetry, painting, bricklaying, quilting. You name it.
What's the most surprising bit of your own life you've doctored up and put on the page?
My treat-loving Golden Retrievers will pick a winner from among the comments and send them a copy of Ally and PJ's book, Antonides' Forbidden Wife. Check the comments on Thursday or my blog for the name of the winner.
Anne's next book, One Night Mistress . . . Convenient Wife will be coming from Harlequin Presents and Mills & Boon Modern in November.
She dipped into her days on the sand in Manhattan Beach and her husband's cousin's lawyerly expertise for that one.