Guest blogger C. Hope Clark gives us a story of walking, and of walking her way into a story. She is a gifted novelist and shares this insight into her writing process.
My publisher asked me to create a new mystery series. Tough assignment, right? A dream for many writers, but with three books under my belt in a different series, my heart wasn’t into creating another world and a new cast of characters. I expected to be Sue Grafton-esque, with two dozen episodes of the Carolina Slade Mysteries, and me still writing the stories in my nineties.
Walking opens my mind and releases some sort of magical physiological something I don’t know the name of, and this assignment warranted my feet hitting the ground someplace to set my brain in gear. I cherish walking outdoors mostly, drawn to forest paths and all their glorious nature. The musk of rotting leaves, sweetness of honeysuckle, even the richness of dirt empty my mind of so much stuff.
But I didn’t need an empty mind. I needed new ideas. Made-from-scratch ideas about stories I wasn’t keen on writing. So instead of the woods, I entered the recreation center with hubby, him seeking the weights and me the monotonous oval track. The forest gave me permission to not to think. The track represented the opposite. I could walk without worrying about stumbling, without the distraction of a squirrel up close, or a rabbit scooting across my path.
Monotony of setting also dictated ear buds and the music of my choice. The publishing assignment stymied me, so I fell into old Neil Diamond tunes that opened old memories. Back when I was a teen and enjoyed hiding away to hear Neil pine about lost sweethearts, heartbreak, and forbidden love. Drinking wine to forget. Floating on water and feeling sunshine. Bitter-sweet, poignant songs of a lonely individual lost in life.
Two, three, four miles each day I walked, ten Neil Diamond albums on my playlist, replayed so many times I knew which song would come next.
My character took a rough form. She was once strong, once in control, and now broken, a foreign concept to her. She spiraled into a sense of loss. (Cue Neil for a song or two so I could wallow in the loss. Let it touch my heart and maybe loosen a tear. Neil cuts to my soul.) But what loss? At three miles, I tucked away my iPod, went home, and took notes.
Several visits and several miles of track later, I set the new series on Edisto Beach, South Carolina. That’s where I’d been so many times when upset, or sorting through issues, often with a good friend who lived there. A woman who addressed her life through yoga, who lived life large but on her terms. Maybe a secondary character?
More miles, more track. The playlist memorized to where I could set certain songs to cue specific feelings. The protagonist had to be a cop, per my publisher. During Neil’s bluest songs of loss, I saw my character despondent, seeking solace, feeling guilty for her choices.
Four months later, Callie Jean Morgan assumed her place in Chapter One. Her career choice cost her a husband, and her job. She retreated to home, to Edisto Beach, to find herself and raise her only son. And the only solace she found was listening to Neil Diamond on her porch, seated in an Adirondack chair, gin and tonic in hand.
Murder on Edisto released a year later. It was the best book I ever wrote.
BIO: C. Hope Clark recently released book three in the Edisto Island Mysteries in August. Echoes of Edisto is now the best book she ever wrote, and she cannot imagine her writing life without these characters in it. www.chopeclark.com