Writers are often told that the story is paramount. That’s what readers are there for and why they’ll stick around. You’ve got to have a good story if you want to publish, engage readers, and sell your books. You can almost hear Jan Brady screaming at you: "Story, story, story!"
Surely that's all true, but it doesn't work for me to start there. I’ve had several what I thought were great story ideas, but when I started putting them on paper, I learned pretty quickly that I didn’t actually want to spend time where they were happening or with the characters required. I would rather shut my laptop and leave after Chapter 1 than spend weeks and months where I don’t want to be.
I lived in Los Angeles for three years and got to know a wonderful lady who lived not far from me. She would often invite me and other friends to her house for meals or to enjoy her pool. (I knew someone with a pool in L.A. This southern boy felt very chic.) You never quite knew when it would come, but at some point during each gathering at her house, she would announce, very politely: “OK, I’m done. Everyone needs to leave now.” No issue of lingering guests for her! She had that problem solved.
That’s how I can feel when I’m writing and not liking where I’ve found myself: “OK, get out. Time to leave.” Fortunately, I can usually feel it happening within the first couple of pages of a new story. The setting and characters keep me interested and writing. When I find an affinity for certain places and characters I’ve dreamed up, they keep me coming back for more, and we find the story together.
I started writing Lake Fearless at the beginning of a still-cold spring, after a long winter, and I wanted to be someplace warm. In the first line of that book, Evan dips his toes into the lake water on a warm summer day for a reason. It’s where I wanted to be. Then hunkered down during Covid, I was dreaming of expansive mountain vistas. Throw in some wine, and I wound up at Patrick and Ian’s mountain vineyard in Cherry Wine Kisses. It was hard to tear myself away from either place at the end of those books.
And the characters. The men of Lake Fearless and Cherry Wine Kisses came to feel like family, even when they were acting silly. Maybe especially then. I liked spending time with them and hope to again.
Stories will come, and I hope they’re entertaining. But first, just let me figure out where I want to sit and who I want to invite over for company.