I self-published Hanging in the Stars, my first novel. This is a dream come true. Since 6th grade I secretly wanted to be a writer. Raising two sons and teaching high school English came between my dream and the reality of a finished book. (Yes, I started many novels over the years usually during summer vacation, only to abandon the manuscript when school started in September. By the following summer the plot had gone stale or I was infatuated by a new story idea.)
However, two years ago when I attended Stonybrook University’s Summer Writing Workshop, I got organized with a game plan. I moved from a character sketch of Andrew to a writing the dinner table scene where he rebels against his mother’s expectations for him. Then I imagined his workout at the gym where he makes an agreement with Cruz.
The city playgrounds played a big part in my growing up and a lot of my tougher students played handball at the parks. So the playground swings became a romantic setting for Andrew and Maya, Cruz’s hot Mexican sister. I took lots of photographs of the local playground through the cyclone fence. I watched the empty metal swings move with the cement handball court looming large. I acquired a feel for their romance in a savvy setting.
While writing the book the characters had countless conversations with each other, and with me as well. Sometimes they simply refused to be ignored. In the early stages I decided that Andrew and Maya would be reading Romeo and Juliet, a classic 9th grade text. However, when I started to sprinkle in some quotes from the play, the words were so beautiful and meaningful that more and more quotes were intertwined as touch stones throughout Andrew and Maya’s journey.
To get a clear vision of their journey, I had to draw a map of the setting and a time line to double check my sense of place and time. Not only did the novel have to be shaped in terms of action and suspense, each chapter had a shape and a hook. I created an outline of events and an approximate number of pages for each chapter. As in life, often while writing the unexpected happens. Sometimes what seems a wonderful idea just doesn’t work out and other times little insignificant moments become important.
After about six months of writing every day, I was relieved as I finished the last chapter. Only I had no idea that I had just begun. Rewrites and editing and publishing and marketing were all ahead. But writing the story with a beginning, middle and end for the first time is indeed the first step, and an important one at that.