According to the bio on Joanne Kennedy’s website, she ran away from home to the West at the advanced age of 32 and was delighted to discover that cowboys still walk the streets of Cheyenne. Her fascination with Wyoming’s unique blend of past and present leads her to write contemporary Western romances with traditional ranch settings.
I love cowboys (and just the idea of cowboys) so when I find another author who writes in the Western romance genre, I have to pay attention (especially when their books have such delightful cover art).
Welcome to my blog, Joanne.
The Writing Road Trip by Joanne Kennedy, Guest Blogger
Writing a book is like taking a road trip. It takes planning—but if you map out every move in advance and time everything down to the last second, the lack of spontaneity will take all the fun out it. I’d rather just pile the kids in the car and start driving, hoping for a grand adventure and wondering where the heck we’ll end up.
So when I start a book, I basically toss my characters out onto the page, which is a relief because they’ve usually been with me for a while, chattering in my ear and generally being annoying so I’ll take them somewhere. I have a rough idea of where we’re going, but mostly I just follow the road as it unfolds.
My characters usually cooperate with this process better than kids deal with road trips, but eventually they start squabbling and sulking and poking each other. Then it’s time to step out of the story and look at it from the outside so you can find them something constructive to do. This corresponds to the part of the road trip where you get out of the car, stretch, and take a look at the map while the kids run around decimating wildflower beds and filling the back seat with rocks.
Even now, you don’t want your plan to be too detailed. You need to stay loose and let your instincts carry you forward. It’s those impulsive side-trips to Reptile Kingdom and the spontaneous stop at the World’s Largest Prairie Dog Town that make the best memories on a road trip, and it’s the same way with a story. Unexpected destinations are what make a book memorable, too.
Of course, this can all go terribly wrong. Characters can dash off on useless tangents, pursuing some elusive purpose that never really gels. Reptile Kingdom can turn out to be smelly and sort of pathetic. Prairie dogs can hide in their holes and refuse to come out. Plot threads can tangle and wander off in the wrong direction.
That’s where you need to hang onto hope and a whole lot of faith. You have to hope your instinctive sense of story will see you through, and have faith that you had that instinct in the first place.
Losing that hope and faith corresponds to the part of the trip where you decide you’re a terrible mother who never does anything right. You bang your head on the steering wheel, berate yourself for not planning better and try not to let the kids see you cry. In writing and in road trips, this is a good time to stop at a Mini-Mart and get some powdered sugar donuts. Snacks are great sources of faith and hope.
The sugar donuts will help for a while, although they might be the reason the kids are squabbling and poking each other again. And eventually you’re liable to come to an intersection and discover that you’ve been off course for the past fifty miles. Or maybe somebody left their precious stuffed bunny back at the Reptile Kingdom cafeteria. You’re going to have to backtrack to your last turning point and start again. You’ve probably wasted a couple of hours going in the wrong direction, but that’s okay. You’re on track now.
It’s been a long trip, though, and there comes a point where your characters finally stop misbehaving. The problem is, they’re not doing anything else, either. They’re asleep in the back seat with Precious Bunny, and you’re going to have to stop for the night and recharge. This will give you more time to look at the map and figure out how you ended up in Indiana instead of Illinois and what road will get you the heck out of there.
Okay, maybe that’s not the best way to take a road trip. But it’s okay to write a book that way, because unlike a road trip, you can go over it when you’re done and fix everything that went off-course. Did you take a wrong turn in Chapter 8? You can rewrite it. Did your characters misbehave in Chapter 12? Go back and make them do what you want.
And maybe that’s why hope lives through even the worst writing experience. If you work hard enough, you can turn even the bumpiest road trip into one heck of a story.
Thanks again for being my guest today, Joanne.
Joanne Kennedy is the author of Cowboy Trouble, Cowboy Fever, and 2010 RITA® nominee One Fine Cowboy, all published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. Her latest release, Tall, Dark & Cowboy, was released November 1st and is available online and in bookstores nationwide.
TALL, DARK AND COWBOY
ISBN 978-1-4022-5144-3 $6.99
Available in paperback and ebook editions
In the wake of a nasty divorce, Lacey Bradford is on the run from her ex-husband’s criminal cronies. Swearing off her ex’s ill-gotten gains, she runs to her old friend Chase Caldwell for help. But the boy she once knew has changed. Embittered by the loss of his family farm due to Lacey’s ex-husband’s machinations, Chase is hardly thrilled to see the girl who broke his heart.
As Lacey begins to create a new life for herself, a new, surprising attraction ignites from the ruins of their former friendship. And when danger comes to Grady, Wyoming, Chase learns that this delicate Southern flower just might turn out to be a steel magnolia.
You can learn more about Joanne and her books at her website.