I often take two years to complete a novel. OUT OF THE DUST took two years. PHOENIX RISING, two years. BROOKLYN BRIDGE, two years, too.
THE MUSIC OF DOLPHINS is also in the “two year” club.
I spend about a year doing research, another year writing and revising.
And no, I do not do the work on a deserted island under a palm tree. Most of the time I labor away in a tiny office in Vermont.
1. When it comes to writing, poetry was my first love. I started writing poems as a very young girl. Often my books begin as poems and evolve over the long writing process into prose.
2. In my attempt to convey to the reader what it might have been like to live under such challenging conditions, I thought poetry might be an ideal way to subtly key the reader into the importance of every word and every action. It felt essential to cut out anything extraneous, to include only what was absolutely necessary to tell this story and give it a lean but credible shape.
I did visit Oklahoma, but ONLY after I’d written Out of the Dust. It’s peculiar, like looking in a rearview mirror, to have written about the Panhandle first, then visited after.
I created the book by spending a dedicated year researching. It was comforting, when I finally visited that gracious state and its welcoming people, to see I’d come fairly close to getting it “right”. I guess all that research paid off.
While in the early stages of writing Out of the Dust I walked into Experienced Goods, a local thrift shop that raises money for Brattleboro Area Hospice. There I discovered a handmade doll that perfectly fit my emerging image of “Daddy”. I bought the unusual little doll, brought him home, and set him on top of my computer monitor. How I loved looking up at him while I was thinking. He remained on my monitor throughout the months and months of revision and would be with me still, but…
I no longer have him. When asked by ABA for a donation for their annual fundraiser, I gave up my dear little “Daddy” avatar.
This doll, which I made a few weeks ago, though not really like the “Daddy” doll I gave up, still has some of the same spirit.
This is such an interesting question. It can be answered at least two different ways.
Events going on in my life do have an impact on my writing although by the time I’ve revised the manuscript many times the circumstances that might have colored the writing at one point have shifted and so the revision, most likely, would reflect those shifts.
If you mean that I identify so deeply with the character that I lose hope when the character is going through a tough time, the answer would be no. I might be writing about a very challenging time in a character’s life but I try to create characters who have the strength to transcend their challenges. If I lost hope I fear the character would plummet into despair and the book would be doomed.
What a wonderful thing for an author to hear…that a reader has connected so deeply with the character and the story that the last page leaves a longing for more. Because readers, by inviting the story into their heads and hearts, help co-create the book with the author, the reader is left with the task of moving the characters beyond the last page through any number of possible scenarios until he or she is satisfied and able to move on to another book, another cast of engaging characters.
Though I admire and enjoy reading many different forms,
my favorite to write is free verse.
I am so grateful for the doors OUT OF THE DUST has opened for me. I am so honored to have this book read and studied by so many. I am in awe of the fact that hundreds of years from now when most of my work will have been forgotten, there might still be a footnote citing OUT OF THE DUST (whatever footnotes might look like in several centuries). But OUT OF THE DUST is not my favorite book. None of my books could be given that distinction. I have labored exhaustively over every one of them. They have each emerged from years of intense work, time I’ve taken away from other things, like spending time with my family, like living life. Consequently I am fiercely loyal to all of my books. I could, and would, never choose a favorite.
If you look under “the writing process” category of this blog where I’ve answered a question about naming the characters in LETTERS FROM RIFKA you will find a more complete answer, but in short I try out names throughout the writing process. As I come to better understand the characters with each successive draft of the book I have a better idea of the name she/he should carry. Sometimes I settle on the “right” name within the first few drafts. Sometimes I am nearly at the end of the writing process and I’m still uncertain. The name, first and foremost, has to fit the way the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fit. Sometimes a piece will be close to the right fit but you have to force it just a little. I try to avoid forcing anything in my books. So I’ll try name after name until it drops into place perfectly, until I’m certain there really can be no other. That’s how Billie Jo Kelby got her name.