A few months ago, having not started a new book in over a year and a half, I convinced myself I’d forgotten how to write. I would flip through my published thrillers and marvel: How the heck did I do that? Where did I get the ideas? The characters? The plot twists and turns? Although I’d completed twelve novels over ten years (five of them published) I realized I’d lost the magic, the muse, whatever. My most recent thriller, The Devil’s Madonna, due out in September, had taken so much energy and focus that my brain was worn out. Another book just wasn’t in me. So I rationalized. It’s been rewarding, I told myself, but why would I want to keep going in this confusing, frustrating period in publishing? So I called my kids and told them I was over this “writing business.”
“What are you going to do instead?” asked my son, perhaps concerned I’d start calling him more than twice a day.
“Travel with Dad. Read more books. Take up mahjong.”
“Are you happy, Mama?” my daughter asked.
“Absolutely,” I said.
“Hmmm,” she said.
Knowing that I was never going to write another book, I headed up to New York for the last writers’ conference I ever planned to attend. And just to digress for a moment, I’m a conference junkie. I love SleuthFest, and ThrillerFest, and Bouchercon, and Killer Nashville. I don’t believe I’ve ever attended a conference without coming home all jazzed up. But this time, I had no such expectations. After all, I was finished with my writing career.
ThrillerFest in July. I attended panels. I listened to the keynoters. I was even a presenter myself on a panel with some awesome NY Times bestselling authors. I was relaxed. No pressure to network or kiss up to anyone. I was leaving the writing business. And then on Saturday afternoon, I went to a panel about branding yourself and your novels. I listened to four incredibly talented best-selling writers talk about what they’d done to take their careers to the next level. Their successes hinged on having a unique marketable product that readers identified with them.
Remarkably, as I sat there, an idea came to me. Actually, more of a concept—a fusion of several seemingly unrelated ideas that had been marinating in the back of my mind for some time. Merged together, they made sense. The concept was unique and I believed it was marketable. For the first time in eighteen months, I was charged with enthusiasm.
I spent Sunday with my sister-in-law hiking the Aqueduct Trail in Westchester, New York, and talking through different approaches to my concept. My sister-in-law is a great person to brainstorm with—patient and encouraging. Finally, I came up with something that I believe could work. Something that interested and excited me. Most important, it was a book I wanted to write.
I got home late Sunday night. On Monday and Tuesday, I jotted down plot and subplot ideas. I researched on the internet. I conceived characters. I used my husband as a sounding board. I called my sister-in-law. I wasn’t quite sure how it would all come together, but I was overwhelmed with the need—that’s right, literally the need—to write. On Wednesday, I sat down at my computer and tapped out the first chapter. It was raw, but it told me where the book had to go next. Since then, I’ve been writing every day. The characters speak to me. They take me along on their journeys. I’m fascinated. I’m intrigued. I’m astounded. I had forgotten that writing could be so gratifying, so consuming, so damn much fun.
I called my daughter. “I’m writing a new book.”
“Good, Mama,” she said. “Now you sound happy.”
Sharon Potts is the critically acclaimed author of three thrillers about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Sharon has worked as a CPA and business executive and is currently vice president of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Her novels include the award-winning In Their Blood and Someone’s Watching. In her latest thriller, The Devil’s Madonna, a young pregnant woman, threatened by a stalker, discovers secrets about her grandmother’s life in 1930s Berlin that will have devastating consequences for her marriage, her unborn child, and perhaps even the world. New York Times best-selling author Jeffery Deaver says, “The Devil’s Madonna is rich with high-concept, captivating characters and a relentless plot that simply won’t let go.”
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.)