Karen Brichoux

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"Draws the reader into the story and never lets go." --RT Bookclub
"Brichoux reminds the reader how powerfully the landscape of 'home' can define a person." -- High Country News
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"An exceptional novel." --Melissa Senate, author of The Solomon Sisters Wise Up
"A coup. Warm, smart, and original." --Kirkus Reviews


Decisions, Decisions

November 29, 2004

December 2004 Newsletter from the desk of Karen Brichoux


*Article: “Decisions, Decisions”
*What I’m Reading


*I hope everyone is having a happy holiday season. We had our first snow and built a snowman and snow dog (with very little help from our dog who thought rolling snowballs around was a great idea; such fun to bite and shake). Sadly, it all melted in twenty-four hours, but there is more in the forecast! Speaking of the holidays, I’m working to finish the draft of my fourth book prior to family visits, so this newsletter and January’s will be abbreviated.

*If you haven’t been to the revitalized NAL bulletin boards, drop by and browse through the topics at http://nalauthors.com/forums/. Be sure to register and post (at least one post each month) so you will be entered in a monthly drawing for signed books donated by the NAL authors--two different authors each month.

Article: “Decisions, Decisions”

[I am randomly choosing topics suggested by newsletter subscribers. If you have a topic on writing or the writing life which you’d like to see covered, feel free to email the topic to me at email@karenbrichoux.com.]

Susan asked:
I'd like to see in your newsletter how you decide what you write, pick the characters, etc.

I am what I term a “free hand” writer. That means, as I’ve said before, that I don’t work from an outline. However, that doesn’t mean I work without ideas. Since I’ve written plenty of newsletter about how I choose what I write about, I thought it might be helpful to look at what I choose NOT to write about.

I write down all the little ideas I have over the few months I give myself to recover from writing the last book. At some point, I begin to do a little weeding. I know, for example, that my contract specifies a book of women’s fiction. That means that I can’t write a story about two men and a dog driving across the California desert. It might be a fascinating idea, but it isn’t going to be accepted by the publisher. Let’s say I really like the idea of two men and a dog driving across the desert. Is there a way to make this into a women’s fiction book? What if one of the men were actually a woman in disguise?

This change may or may not work. It might end up being too complicated or too much like a suspense book or a thriller. People tend to not disguise themselves for a lark. There’s usually a good reason. Scratch that idea.

Let’s say it isn’t a disguise. Maybe the woman wants to BE a man? I can see the words “work of women’s fiction” on my contract, so I have to throw out that version.

I sit back in my chair and change the scenario again. Let’s say the two men become a young woman and her husband. They’re driving in an old, run-down trailer and they find the dog sitting at the side of the road. Maybe they argue about picking up the dog. Maybe their marriage is at a crossroads.

This change might make the idea too much like a popular movie. At which point, I throw it out and go back to wondering if I can convince the publisher that a story about two men and a dog driving across the desert might actually qualify as women’s fiction.

At some point, though, a certain version of the idea will stick and get my heart pounding and my fingers itching to type it up. Then I start writing short scenes as they come to me. And from those scenes, characters begin to develop. Habits, frustrations, ways of talking, annoyances...they begin to come through in the scenes. The scenes also provide a kind of “road map” framework. A framework of connect-the-dots that will form the backbone of the novel to come. Many of the scenes will be thrown out as the story changes. One of the worst things an author can do is not be willing to throw things away.

Names are the last things I think up. The names will change the characters’ personalities somewhat, based on my own acquaintance with people who have similar names or my own prejudices about people with certain names. Ruth will react differently from Carol. Clyde will react differently from Jeff.

Once all these factors come together, I start writing, and the book is born.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

What I’m Reading:

Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
A Slipping-Down Life by Anne Tyler
The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian
Follow Me Home by Jerri Corgiat