I was going to write the final blog post on goals today but changed my mind at the last minute. On Saturday, I got to attend a book signing by one of my writing heroes – Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She was in town to promote the book Call Me Irresistible.
I still remember the first book I read of hers; Dream a Little Dream, which is about the brother of Cal Bonner, the hero in Nobody’s Baby But Mine. A friend gave it to me – which is the way I got most of my books prior to the internet; recommendation – and I was immediately drawn into the story. I’ve read every book of hers since and went back to get the ones I missed. I love them all. I’m obviously not alone, as she hits the bestseller list every time.
I’ve loved SEP as a reader for a long time but only recently realized I love her as a writer. See, when you start writing for publication, you learn a lot about what makes a good story. Unfortunately, books which are not good make it into print. I’m a lot less forgiving of this now than I used to be, so I appreciate a well-written story from a craft perspective.
What makes her books so great? In a word – characters. I remember her characters from books I read ten or more years ago. This paid off for me at the book signing when SEP read lines from her books and the audience had to guess which book the lines came from. Here’s the one I guessed (and it’s one of my favorites of hers): “All that spring Honey prayed to Walt Disney. From her bedroom in the rear of the rusty old trailer that sat in a clump of pines behind the third hill of the Black Thunder roller coaster, she prayed to God and Walt and sometimes even Jesus in hopes that one of those powerful heavenly figures would help her out.”
Wow. Those are two powerful lines. Not only does she establish the character of Honey Moon with a big pow, but if you’ve read the book – and you should if you haven’t – it’s also got elements of the setting and the theme. These are the first two lines of the book, btw.
As a writer, I’m in awe of that.
One of the things SEP does well with character is the screw-up, difficult, miles-to-go heroine. I relate to that, personally. J As a writer, I’ve got to give her major kudos because that kind of heroine is really, really, really hard to write well. I’ve written three books and someone has hated at least one, sometimes both, of my main characters in all three. I’m somehow missing that elusive thing that SEP does which is create a heroine with flaws but who is still really likable and memorable. I’m going to read Call Me Irresistible with this in mind and take notes. Lots of notes.
The concept of readers hating a character is new to me. I’ve NEVER stopped reading a book because I didn’t like the heroine. I’m going to assume this is because I’m really picky about what I read and I only read well-written stuff. That means my stuff isn’t well written yet. Hence the notes…
I learned a couple of things about SEP at the signing that as a writer, I can’t get over. One, she doesn’t write with an outline. I would DIE without my structure. I can’t imagine writing something without knowing where I’m going. But I write plot driven books…she’s writing character driven books. The plot grows organically out of the characters and their reaction to things. It only serves to get them to the HEA.
Maybe that should be one of my notes? Do I want to write a good story or write good characters? Which one will people remember more? That’s probably not a black and white answer. Except I’m writing romance. Romance is by definition about the two people and their journey to happily ever after. That’s probably going to involve major aspects of their character if you do it right. So hmmm…
The other thing she mentioned is that it takes her 18-20 months to write a book. Holy cow. I’m worried because I can’t write one faster than eight months. Now granted, I don’t get seven figures for my books like she does, so perhaps I should be worried. But the lesson I’m taking from it is to write a good book. Take time with it. Get it right, not done.
You tell me: do you like Susan Elizabeth Phillips? Which book is your favorite and why? I’m very curious if anyone has a different opinion about why her books are so great.
PS One other cool thing about the book signing – I sat next to another writer, the super nice Traci Bell, who has a book coming out next month with Crescent Moon Press called Entangled. I love meeting other writers and learning about their process, triumphs, struggles, etc. Good luck with your release Traci!!