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What I Have Learned Writing a Novel: More Than a Story

When I tell someone that I'm writing a novel, the inevitable question I'm asked, "Is this about your life?" "Well no, but then again, yes," is my stammering response.  My novel's story blossoms from my imagination, but that imagination is influenced by my experience, perspectives, and observations. Jane Austin and Alice Munro, for example, wrote about what they knew; separating the author from the story, I believe would be difficult.


The Evan Marshall Literary Agency defines a novel as "a work of written narrative fiction that may be based on or inspired by a true story but does not claim to be a true account."  My first novel, 181 Blackhorse Road, fits nicely within this definition: it's inspired about what I know, and what I have experienced and observed about the challenges people face and how they come out on the other side of those triumphantly in a better state or defeated and depleted.


181 Blackhorse Road is a story of emotional maturation, love and betrayal and family intergenerational conflicts and influences that ends triumphantly for some, but not for others.  Working in imagination over the past twelve months, I have been amazed at how the book's characters continually surprise me as they evolve from my computer keyboard.  Luci did what?  What were you thinking, Chris? Berry, that was heavy!  Sean, you were brilliant!  Marie, how could you go so low?  Every day these imaginary people surprised me.


When I came to writing Part 2 of the novel, a lapse of eighteen years from the start of the story in 1966, it was if the switch of a searchlight turned on and the main character's emotional maturation danced across the pages.  What an absolute thrill!  I also found myself falling in love with characters I would never have anticipated and even being torn between love interests; pure satisfaction that made me smile as the words tumbled across the computer screen!


It has not been my recollections of 1966-1986, nor the locations chronicled in the book, that fueled sixteen-hour days of writing.  No!  It's been the supplemental research that has proved most fascinating; I'd take a shovel and start digging and couldn't stop, hungry to learn more and examine how historical events, politics, economics, philosophy, religion, and psychology would influence the challenges, values, and actions of the story's characters and ultimately their outcome.  The things I've uncovered, I've shared and exposed within the whirlwind of my imagination on the pages of my novel, and it is the backstories that I plan to share with my readers in future blog posts.  Stay tuned! 

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Why A University Professor Transformed into Novel Author


Why would a retired university professor whose written textbooks in health information systems decide to write a novel?  Wow!  That is an off-ramp that doesn't make much sense.


A decade ago, I started my practice as a leadership coach. My focus is on helping women break the glass ceiling and fulfill their leadership and economic potential. Consequently, during the past ten years, I transitioned from writing textbooks to motivational books on creating environments where people flourish through better leadership.


About a year ago, I was on a conference call discussing concepts of what makes a fulfilling life with fellow life coaches.  Bang! Like a thunderclap, I had an insight. What would it be like to help people understand the concepts of a flourishing life in a story instead of through a motivational book or text? After all, I thought, storytelling has been the most compelling form of communication for thousands of years. As far as I could recall, none of the great Profits fed up learning objectives and multiple-choice questions to their followers.  No!  They got their message across through stories.


Motivational books and textbooks give frameworks, theories, and ideas, but they don't immerse us in the human experience. They don't show us how others face challenges, embrace their passions, overcome sorrow, celebrate achievement, quash self-doubts, develop positive emotions and relationships, handle betrayal, or act on aspirations. 


Storytelling ignites our imagination and emotion.  We experience being part of the story rather than being served up a platter of facts, exercises, and information. As Dr. Pamela Rutledge says, with storytelling, "we become participants in the narrative. We can step out of our own shoes, see differently, and increase our empathy for others. Through imagination, we tap into creativity that is the foundation of innovation, self-discovery and change." 


This eye-opener was enough for me to take on the challenge of novel writing.  My passion is to help people catapult beyond concepts and theories and jump into the wonderment of imagination in designing a flourishing life for themselves.  Storytelling does this best.


Happily, as a novel author I have jettisoned learning objectives and test questions.  Ah…the freedom makes me feel as light as a balloon on a summer breeze.

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