LG McCann says her stories always start with a character …
Some writers start with a story concept. They know their plots, their settings, and a basic outline of their characters.
Me? I always start with a character. Sometimes it’s a line of dialogue that inspires me (“I would make such a good hit man”), sometimes it’s a situation she might find herself in (waking up after a night of partying having thrown up in her bed). But every story starts with a character.
The Other Side of Gemini started as a joke, a sort-of satire about my best friend and I going to our ten-year high school reunion back in 2003. The story was always in the back of my mind, but years later, I found myself on the floor of the entryway in a boyfriend’s apartment in the middle of the night, furiously scribbling the grocery store scene. And that’s where this book really started.
This suburban grocery store is huge. And packed, because it’s a Saturday. I’ve grown so accustomed to the basement Food Emporiums and the dark, cramped D’Agostinos of Manhattan that I forgot all about the large, luxurious grocery stores everywhere else. At first, I reach for a small handbasket, but change my mind and go for the big-bellied basket on wheels. I slog slowly up and down the aisles, pausing for a significant amount of time in the frozen foods section gazing at pizzas, cheesecakes, ice cream . . . they’re all here. This Safeway even has soy products — every kind I could ever want. But I’m not about to start watching my fat and sugar intakes, not today, when my liver is pickled like a gherkin, so I pass them and grab a pint of cherry ice cream with double chocolate chunks. Make that two pints.
There is one last travel-sized bottle of Jim Beam in my purse. I pull a liter-size Coke from a shelf, crack it open, and dump some on the floor. The people around me look for a moment at the sound of something spilling, and just as quickly look away, embarrassed for me.
“Oops,” I say, my voice flat and uncaring, then openly pour the bottle of Beam into the Coke, followed by a casual toss of the small empty over my left shoulder.
I had been thinking about her character for a really long time, but it wasn’t until that moment, on the floor of my ex’s apartment, that Sylvia Miloche was officially born.
Discovery is my absolute favorite part of the writing process. Most times I don’t even have a story in mind, and my characters reveal the plot as they develop and evolve on the page. Often I start with an anecdote and things flow from there.
I learned that term, anecdote, in my Creative Writing 101 course of my first semester of my freshman year at Hollins University. After half-assing my way through several poetry segments (I’m a terrible poet, and I really don’t like reading or studying poetry), we finally got to the short story portion of the class. At that point, I really wasn’t familiar with the construction of short stories. Having always been a writer of characters, I had a ton of fully fleshed, aimless, and plot-less characters mingling on my hard drive, some of them dating back to 1997 when my family got its first PC (I think the floppy disks are still in a box in the attic).
Having come from Alaska, where I’d spent the first 1.8 decades of my life, attending college in Roanoke, Virginia found me face-to-face with Vera Bradley purses and bags for the first time. They were everywhere. And I thought they were hideous. They look like old-lady bags, I thought. And being the acid-tongued little 18-year-old shit that I was back then, I set out to write about what kind of person I imagined would carry such hideous bags beyond the southern preppy girls on my campus.
The bags, especially the duffel versions, looked like giant quilted pillows. Padding, I thought, watching a girl pack up her car for the long fall break weekend. Guess they’ll be useful if your car crashes.
What resulted was a large British woman with an intense fear of flying. She needed to get from Bristol to upstate New York to take care of her cousin. She carried two huge quilted duffel bags on board with her, one that went under the seat in front of her and another that she insisted on keeping in her lap. She also had to sit in the middle seat, so if the plane went one way or the other, the people on either side would serve as padding. Hijinks ensued on the trans-Atlantic flight, and I had an awesome time writing this obnoxious character. But when I presented it to my Creative Writing 101 class, I was informed that it was not, in fact, a story. It was an anecdote. There was no plot. The character never actually did anything. And that’s when I really started to understand the mechanics of how stories are constructed.
Like I said, I start with my characters. Their attitudes, their dialogue, and the situations they find themselves in ultimately reveal their stories. Who knows what would have happened if the British lady would have made it out of the airport (where the story stopped) and all the way to upstate New York to take care of her cousin. If I had spent more time on her — and in retrospect, I’m not sure why I didn’t — she could have turned into something. But for now, I’m working on a new character: a woman who runs her family’s ski resort. What will happen to her? Guess you’ll have to come back next year to find out!
Sylvia Miloche is a successful book editor by day, D-list party girl by night, and has been dating New York City’s favorite playboy James Ryan for five years. But things are far from perfect. When the New York Post catches James with an intern, Sylvia’s already precarious life comes crashing down.
Lindsay Sekulich is a high school science teacher, wife, and mother of three in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. Her high school reunion is quickly approaching and that means the secrets of her bad-girl past, all of which she’s kept hidden from her husband, could come spilling out, revealing who she once was and the horrible things she’s done.
When Sylvia emerges in Scottsdale, seeking refuge in her hometown from the relentless gossip blogs, Lindsay finds herself alternately elated and terrified. The two were inseparable as teens, but a tragedy just before their senior year tore them apart. Sylvia, once a carefree, joyful girl always up for adventure, is a beaten-down and broken adult. Now Lindsay must make a choice: rescue the friend who saved her in high school, or keep it all hidden to save her marriage from almost certain destruction.
LG McCann was born and raised in the Last Frontier. She graduated from Hollins University summa cum laude with a double major in English and Film & Photography. She spent six years in New York City, working in reality TV, the non-profit sector, and the publishing industry. When she’s not writing or proofreading (or at her day job), you’ll most likely find her playing in her garden, cooking with her partner Jonathan, attempting complex yoga moves, or passing out from exhaustion on her couch with her fuzzy assistant Emmy Cat.