Things you get to do as a novelist

Recently I responded to a Twitter question from Jeffrey Perry (don’t ask me who he is) that asked people to describe what they do for a living but make it sound scary.

I responded, “I’ve thrown a pregnant woman down the stairs, crashed TWO planes, assaulted a number of people, caused a jail lockdown, shot a kid who was just hanging out on his front porch, and given four people fatal overdoses.”

I added, “It’s not really much of a living, though.” (It really isn’t, right now. I need to get my marketing self together or decide this is just a hobby.)

Anyway, it nicely freaked some folks out. An author I know from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association responded, “Hahaha, you shocked me for a minute.”

And a pretty good number of folks appreciated my explanation: “(Novelist, dude.)”

It is a pretty shocking list put together like that. It made me stop and think. For one thing, I wondered if I was really writing romantic women’s fiction. For another, why am I obsessed with crashing planes?

But it’s plot. I believe my books are character-driven, but no one can say nothing happens in them.

Anyway, you might find it amusing to try something similar with your own profession or your own art, whatever it might be. Make it sound as scary as you can.

I’m eager to see what you come up with. It IS Halloween, after all. Boo!


How authors can have fun with Pinterest

Like most Pinterest users, I tend to poke around in there for home decor, garden ideas, and recipes, as well as art and photography. But authors can get a lot of other use out of it, too.

I’m sure the number one way authors ought to use Pinterest is to market their books, but I haven’t added that to my regular duties yet. But I do find it ideal for seeking inspiration (or providing it) in three other areas: setting, characters, and cover design.

Pinterest is just great for exploring settings. I usually have an actual place in mind when I am writing, and when I need to ground my recollections in some details I can go looking for pictures of that place, or places like it, and easily “pin” what I find in one collection.

I actually started doing this the first time mostly so I could communicate with a cover designer. (If I’d checked earlier, I would have discovered that my memories of Peterborough — Lawson in the novel – did not match reality nearly as well as I thought they had.)

I have pictures from Greenfield, Massachusetts and environs for The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire, along with some of the art that plays a role in the book.

Bardwell’s Folly already has a page, too, but the tricky part is finding a slightly decrepit, entirely out-of-place Southern plantation-style house that could actually be sitting in a small town in Massachusetts. Feel free to suggest pins to me!

Pinterest is also fun for playing with characters. I’ll be honest and confess I don’t care that much how my characters look. I think readers fill in the details themselves. I only fill in enough to show that someone else has noticed them — for what is a better indicator of love than paying close attention?

So Mary did have to notice details about Winslow to be convincingly smitten.And for that I was inspired by a lovely painting I saw once in the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine of a young Jamie Wyeth. I don’t have the painting, nor can I find it online, but I do have a photograph of the actual young Jamie Wyeth on my Pinterest page for The Awful Mess.

Jamie Wyeth and a pig, from somewhere on the Internet. (I’ll update the source if I can ever find it!)

All I know about Mary’s looks is that she has brown hair she hasn’t cropped short yet, she’s underfed, she isn’t impressed by her own breast size, and Bert could describe her as horsy. My parents informed me that she should obviously be played by Sandra Bullock, which just shows you how long this manuscript had been kicking around. That got me thinking about how I would cast Mary, though, and I would probably go more along the lines of Hilary Swank.

I never got around to thinking of actors or paintings for Molly and David. It’s probably even worse for Dori and Joe in my current manuscript, because now I know what a pain in the ass it is to be limited by hair color when looking for good cover images. Seriously, I’m ready to search and replace hair color until I have a cover design I like.

Which brings me to my other favorite use for Pinterest: Whenever I see a cover I really admire, I pin it.This makes it easy to let my cover designer know what my taste is like. One of these days I’d like to use it to keep track of the books I read, but I have a hard enough time just keeping up with Goodreads.


You can set your Pinterest pages to public or private. I have a friend who keeps Pinterest pages as a kind of scrapbook for a book she is writing, pinning pictures and other sources of inspiration to it as she goes along. (Scrivener has a similar function, I believe, although I’ve never mastered it.) I know this because she invited me to join a secret page. So this means you can use Pinterest to share inspiration privately with friends, co-authors, a writing group, or a street team.

Last tip: If you do decide to use Pinterest, accept any time-saving plug-in or app it suggests. You definitely want pinning to be as effortless as possible.

I’m sure there are some real Pinterest power users out there. Feel free to weigh in with good advice. And if you want to ‘cast’ any of my characters, feel free. If you’re on Pinterest, suggest a pin for those pages!