Hey guys! Susan Abel Sullivan is taking over today with a guest post all about how she got started as a writer! Enjoy!
As an author, I’m frequently (and I mean, frequently) asked these questions by non-writers. The answer is not always simple. A work as complex as a novel is often inspired by a variety of sources. Case in point: The Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama.
I’ve been writing since I was eighteen, but back in 2004 I hit a period of non-writing and floundering. Not really writer’s block. More like a lack of direction and no concrete ideas that grabbed me. I was lamenting all this to my sister, and in her infinite wisdom, she said, “Write what you know.”
Well, at that time, what I knew was: being a housewife, living in the Deep South, baton twirling, historic homes, marching band, and having a sister for my best friend. My husband and I bought a Victorian home and we discovered a painting in the basement that raised all sorts of interesting questions. There was also an internet hoax at that time about a haunted painting of a little boy and a bunch of creepy hands. The little boy was reputed to leave the painting at night.
So, I wrote a draft of a paranormal mystery about a haunted painting titled The House Detective, utilizing all of these things I knew. I took the first few chapters to the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2005 and discovered A) haunted painted stories were a dime a dozen and B) I needed to either scrap the whole haunted painting plot altogether or come up with a fresh angle.
However, one of the elements the writers-in-residence and other workshop attendees did like about the work was a paint-by-number Jesus. And no, this was not the haunted painted in the book. One of the writers-in-residence thought I should take that element, add in Holy-Roller antagonists and run with it, that it was my subconscious bubbling up and to trust my subconscious. But the workshop director disagreed.
So I put The House Detective aside and spent the next two years writing short stories to learn the craft of writing. My workshop roomie had introduced me to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels and I ate them up like candy. I also watched TV shows like Desperate Housewives, Friends, The X-Files and Sex and the City. I wanted to try my hand at writing a zany romantic comedy fused with Southern Gothic, paranormal mystery and urban fantasy—a conglomeration of all the things I loved in fiction and TV.
So, I asked myself, how can I turn the haunted painting motif on its head for comic effect? And the answer was not a paint-by-number Jesus, but a black velvet painting of Elvis that supposedly sang “Heartbreak Hotel” in the dead of night. And I took the Holy Roller idea and morphed it into a cult of Elvis fanatics who call themselves The Church of the Blue Suede Shoes. And all those things I “knew” went into the mix again. And what came out was The Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama.
So . . . everyday life is steeped with inspiration. If you’re having trouble with ideas, take my sister’s advice and write what you know. The results may pleasantly surprise you.
~Susan Abel Sullivan~