Celia Kennedy reflects on her writing journey.
In the fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Copeland, gave us homework, a creative writing piece. The details of the story have seeped from my memory, unfortunately. All that remains is that mine was one of the few Mrs. Copeland read to the class, receiving high praise. We wrote four installments, and the euphoria I felt when the class asked her to read my mine is, still, indescribable.
It took another thirty years for me to write a book. Along the way I was the editor of my high school newspaper, went to college and wrote papers on all manner of subjects: art history, paleobotany, urban development, and famous figures in English and American literature and history. I knew the spirit of a writer was still within me when I wrote a paper for an Urban Planning class, including the sentence, “She quaffed her mall-do!”
When the opportunity to follow my lifelong dream of writing arrived, I literally booted up my laptop and started tapping away at the keyboard. No outlines, angst, or hesitation.
My first novel, Charlotte’s Restrained, was based on a conversation I had with my husband after watching an episode of Inside the Actors Studio. Host James Lipton had interviewed Clint Eastwood. This multi-talented man completely captivated us. After the interview was over, we chatted about how amazing it would be to invite him over for dinner and get to know him. We brainstormed about how we would go about contacting a celebrity, and then how would we get him or her intrigued enough about us that they would agree to dine with complete strangers (preferably somewhere fancy and on their tab).
My writing process started out very simple. I opened my laptop, borrowed on the conversation with my husband about Clint Eastwood, and started reading tabloids from around the globe. I picked an attractive mega-star to follow. An unexpected but very important side benefit of this was that I was reacquainted with the necessity for research; in this case it was fashion, glamor, hotspots, jet-setting, and lifestyles of the rich and famous. And as we all know, these details add the sparkle.
After I had the main male lead characters in place, I had to create his counterpart. She felt elusive. I wasn’t writing a romance novel. My goal was to write an intelligent comedy. Which made it important that Charlotte could stand her own ground with her personality versus dazzle men with her pouty lips and perky breasts. I invited a friend to have coffee (I had hot apple juice, she had a soy latte) and she helped me hack my way through the possibilities. Together we arrived at the village concept. Which is ironic really, because I rely on my own for honest opinions on everything from sagging jowls to tight pants.
So, why not create a village of women around Charlotte so that she could be the grounded, intelligent, girl next door she needed to be? No reason not to! Charlotte’s village is inhabited by Hillary, Tiziana, Marian, and Kathleen. (A very entertaining backstory of how they met at Oxford while earning graduate degrees in business and law is included in Charlotte’s Restrained.) Together, they are an unstoppable force – Hillary is from a wealthy English family, and is all things proper. Hailing from Italy is Tiziana. She possesses a natural sexual flamboyancy which often prevents people from recognizing her intelligence. Irishwoman Marian is amazingly witty and it is her sarcastic banter that often provides the opportunity for vulnerable discourse.The final member of the group is Kathleen; an American living in Paris. She is strong and aloof; bringing the best of the American and French cultures to life.
Writing a funny book is hard work. ALL books have many layers, but to write a comedy one has to feel light. There are many days I can write page after page of usable material. But some days… I don’t. On these days I write the infra-structure, making notes in the margin, “Insert something funny here.” Then I have blessed days where I go back in and search for notes, read the situation, add banter, rework scenarios to create double entrendres, and generally lighten the mood of some passages.
At one point I actually quit writing Charlotte’s Restrained for a few months because the weather was so bleak that all the characters were generally miserable. It takes an amazing amount of discipline to sit down at a keyboard and shake off your personal feelings and life issues and jump into the personalities and circumstances of those who live within your manuscript.
I have read a million blogs by authors and am always amazed at their creative processes. Some have written outlines for the entire book. Some have written novellas for each character. Some have sticky notes plastered all over the walls and computer screen. One author was panicked because she was moving and her desk had to be packed up. So, she took close-up photographs of her work space: notepads, sticky notes, and computer screen, so she could set up exactly as things had been. She posted a picture on Twitter less than twenty four hours later and everything was exactly the same in her new place. I could feel her relief.
My style is … more contained. For example, because I am writing a sequel to Charlotte’s Restrained, I have it and my work in progress (Kathleen’s Undressed) open on my laptop. I usually have ten to twelve links open. A dictionary, maps, blogs (food, fashion, travel), tabloids, YouTube, and various websites pertaining to what I am currently writing about (right now I have links to Christmas in France and Italy open as well). I will admit that if there is a website that is crucial, I take a photo of it.
Other things I do: I clean my house before I start writing. I cannot have outstanding chores that MUST be done (clean clothes for tomorrow, some concept of dinner, an alarm scheduled for events I cannot miss). All of this is finished by 8:00 a.m. I cannot have mental or visual distractions. I’m easily distracted.
When I hit a wall, I do one of several things: get a chore out of the way, work-out, listen to music, paint, weed, or read. That means I do one or two of these things every day, because, I come to a stop every day. Usually a distraction gives my brain a chance to percolate through the chaos. When I hit a major wall I have coffee with a friend to hash it out, or grab a pen and paper and go at it the old-fashioned way. One quality I would say a writer needs is tenacity. You will wrestle ideas like a cowboy riding a slicked pig.
Then one day, your characters are flushed out, the twists and turns of your plot lines have been carefully woven, and your edits and rewrites made. I liken this day to your first day of school, both exciting and terrifying. So much potential, so much unknown.
Nestled at the heart of the French Alps, Charlotte Young and her five closest friends ring in the New Year on a ski vacation in Chamonix France. With the same idea in mind, many of the world’s celebrities are in town. Including the King of Romantic Comedies, Des Bannerman. Charlotte and friends join forces to help her realize her lifelong fantasy, to meet Des Bannerman.
Using bait in the form of her Sophia Loren-lookalike friend to blaze a trail to Des Bannerman, Charlotte finally meets her man. His girlfriend, the latest Bond Girl, proves an insurmountable obstacle. Unexpectedly, Charlotte finds herself happily reconciled to an innocent evening of drinking champagne, gambling, and chatting to the celebrity of her dreams. With the wave of her well-manicured hand, lighthearted banter turns into tabloid fodder. Lewd headlines and suggestive photographs provide worldwide entertainment. It also leaves Charlotte saddled with a restraining order. Des Bannerman flees, leaving Charlotte to cope with the paparazzi and feeling very wronged! With her entire life impacted, Charlotte sets about dealing with the fallout of her fifteen minutes of fame. The only problem is, how does a mere mortal make contact with a celebrity god?
Girl meets boy. Boy disregards girl. Girl tracks down boy to get some answers! Along the way and with the help of her friends, Charlotte finds the answers to life’s biggest questions!
In addition to having written Charlotte’s Restrained and Venus Rising, Celia Kennedy is a mom, wife, friend, and a landscape architect. She lives in Redmond, Washington. If you’d like to learn more about her, visit celiakennedy.weebly.com, follow her on Twitter (@KennedyCelia) on Facebook (Celia Kennedy, Author) or Goodreads.