I’m in rainy Ohio, shivering with my brainstorming group. Ohio in the late spring is newly green and outside the windows of my son’s house, both a Japanese magnolia and a pink dogwood bloom. I feel glad to be here no matter what the weather.
Last year we were together in Florida, so our venue has changed, but our group has not. Publishers have come and gone, as have agents. We’ve all made changes in what or how we’re working now, but the brainstorming process is the same. Each of us gets two one-and- a-half hour sessions during our five days together when the group focuses on whatever we ask them to. I’ll be working on the first book of my new series, which has a brand new set of challenges for me. If we answer all my questions in the first session, I’ll move on to next year’s book in the second. I do not expect to move on to next year’s book.
Sunday: We had dinner together last night, but we still feel as if we haven’t really caught up with news. So in our first session we spend an hour talking about what’s happening in our lives. We tell stories for a living, so this is one of the best parts of the day. The news is for the most part good, which sets the tone. We launch into plotting two books, one an international thriller, one a mystery, which is part of a well established series. The books couldn’t be more different; the brainstorming has a common theme. Both times the minute we begin to “fix” what we perceive as a problem, the entire story unravels. And keeping track? We resolve to buy visual aids, poster board and post-it notes. We accomplish a lot but have a lot more to do. Good thing there are two sessions per author. Mideastern food for dinner. Completely exhausted, I sleep very well.
Monday: More rain. I’m glad we’ll be snug and dry inside. Just a few pages to read before we launch into one BSer’s proposal for a Christian publisher. We agree immediately that it’s a great idea, with interesting twists. I’m enchanted with the intelligence and simplicity of the premise, because while the plot will have plenty of action, the dynamics of the two main characters are well spelled out . We spend the rest of the session fleshing out the characterization and motivation. We are far less frustrated than we were yesterday. By afternoon we’re ready to launch into the second book. This one’s part of another established mystery series, and today we figure out how to tie up some loose ends. I laugh so hard at one point that I have tears rolling down my cheeks. The premise that won the day has so much comic potential, I can’t wait to read it. Dinner in a noisy restaurant, but we don’t care. At home I find myself looking forward to my first session tomorrow.
Tuesday: Start the day with breakfast and a catch-up session with the writer I’ve known the longest. It’s fun recapping our past together, mutual friends, shared history, all dissected over whole wheat pancakes. At the hotel the group gathers for the day. I’ve provided everybody with a long synopsis of my story and we launch right in. While there’s a disagreement about how much of the past to include in my novel, for the most part people are perplexed about what I perceive to be problems. What am I so worried about? I feel a tremendous rush of relief. My breakfast buddy tells me a scene she visualizes. It’s a bit different from what I’d planned, but I like it immediately. This is the beauty of brainstorming. We spend lunch time telling publishing horror stories, our version of marshmallows around the campfire, then in the afternoon we brainstorm a book that’s new to us. The author’s figured out most of it. We tweak what doesn’t work for us, but it’s all small stuff. Small stuff is the best kind of brainstorming. A rich and satisfying dinner at a local Italian restaurant, then home to sleep off the calories.
Wednesday: Oh, good, a brand new series in the making. We rub our hands in anticipation and dive right in. As the morning ends, we’ve suggested characters, occupations, titles, plot fragments. A lot of ideas for the author to contemplate as she makes it her own. In the afternoon I present my second idea by reading an autobiography I wrote from the point of view of the main character. Since this is next year’s book, there’s not much more to go on. Luckily, that doesn’t stop us. Sometimes the most fun is fleshing out a skeleton. By the session’s end mine is walking and talking. An Irish pub tonight chosen because, of all things, it’s quiet and close–and yes, it’s still raining.
Thursday: Back to our original two books, both of which needed second sessions. We get further this time, and are less confused. By the session’s end, the authors are feeling positive about how far their stories have come. We sit with a bottle of good Merlot and talk about how much we enjoy each other and the process. Believe it or not, the sun finally comes out. Who knows if we’ll be able to meet again next year. Careers and needs change, and lives get sidetracked. But here’s hoping. Writing is often a lonely profession, and for five days, we’ve been able to move beyond that.
Eight very different books in progress, now. I like to think that every one of them will be on bookshelves in the next few years and that our five days of exhausting, exhilarating work will bring the same pleasure to our readers as they have to us. Meantime, tonight, we will all sleep well. We’ll need it. After all, the work has just begun.