Happy Monday, everyone! Writer-pal and all around fun girl, Dani Pettrey, has stopped by for a little sweet tea and conversation today. I’m fascinated by the way other writing minds work and when I read a good story, I’m always filled with the same questions people ask me when I’m out and about talking about books. Where did the story come from? What inspired it? How did it take shape? Did the writer know the ending when the story began?
I thought it might be fun to have that conversation here on BelleView.
Lisa: For me, stories begin with a story spark that ignites a what if. Wildwood Creek began spinning itself in my head after a chance encounter with a roadside monument. I’d tell you about the monument, but… well… that would spoil the story. Around the same time, a widespread drought caused long-buried ghost towns to rise from area lakes. Those two things combined to form the story of a century-old mystery involving a frontier town in which the citizenry suddenly vanished. As Allie Kirkland accepts a position among the cast of a present-day docudrama set to reenact the last days of Wildwood, a summer drought is closing in and the secrets of Wildwood are about to rise to the surface. Dani, what was your story spark for Stranded?
Dani: Like you, my stories typically begin with a what if spark. That spark can come from anywhere—a news article, something I saw on TV, my imagination, even a photograph. For Stranded, that spark came as a combination of a personal experience and something I saw in the news, much like your idea for Wildwood Creek. The personal experience was a Mediterranean cruise my family took several years ago. It was a seven day cruise and we spent time getting to know a couple members of the cruise staff that we interacted with on a daily basis. Chatting with them and letting my imagination run wild, an idea began to form in my mind. After returning home, I saw a documentary about a woman who had vanished off a cruise ship and Darcy’s story came to life. Unfortunately for Darcy, that involved the disappearance of her dear friend and the beginning of a dark mystery aboard Destiny Cruise Lines.
Lisa: I think, for me, the biggest challenge in finding a balance between writing life and personal life is time management. It’s hard to balance personal responsibilities, business needs, promotional needs, and writing. There are days when the email stack-up is overwhelming… and if I’m being totally honest *sigh* I love social media way too much. I can become wa-a-ay too distracted by it. Some days I balance all of this more effectively than others. Mostly, I set a word-count quota for myself and I force myself to stick to it. Dani, you’ve been very prolific in the last few years, what’s your biggest challenge in finding balance?
Dani: Me? Prolific? Ha! I feel like a snail of a writer. It takes me at least eight months to write a book, and I actually prefer longer. As far as balance….to be honest, my life is more massive writing frenzy periods of intense panic until my deadlines are met. I have a magnet on my fridge that says NOW PANIC and FREAK OUT with the crown upside down. It’s a joke around here. No matter how I plan things out, I always end up in a creative push at the end, and, you should see my house afterwards. We’re not talking dusty bunnies. Oh no,we’ve got lions I do think my biggest challenge is the same as yours and most writers today—time management. Lives are so busy these days and writers are responsible for so much besides actually writing a novel—there’s marketing, business, traveling, etc. Balancing the creative part with the business part is my biggest difficulty. I’m still fairly new to the publishing world so I’m still trying to figure out that balance. Throw in life as well—homeschooling, being a wife, mom and now grandmother—it’s definitely a juggling act. I thank God He manages to get me through somehow. Thankfully I love writing because it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
Lisa: Probably the most beneficial thing I ever learned about the craft of writing came completely by accident. I stumbled into the wrong room at a conference ten years ago or so, and ended up in a class about Three Act Story Structure, as it applies to screenwriting. I had already wandered my way through the writing of my first few novels for Penguin by then. I’m still a very organic sort of writer. I don’t “plan” my stories ahead of time, but learning Three Act Structure helped to gel so many things that I knew from reading, hearing, and watching stories all my life. Dani, what’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Dani: I’ve been blessed with an amazing mentor. She’s given me a plethora of fantastic advice, it’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll go with two First, while I was unpublished, she told me to enjoy writing in obscurity. At the time, of course, I was anxious to be published, but she told me to enjoy the process itself because some day there’d be so much more involved and she was right. Now that I’m published there are deadlines, reviews, marketing, etc. I love being published, but I do occasionally miss the days when there was zero pressure. It was just me and God and the story. For pre-published authors out there, enjoy the process. Enjoy the obscurity and the love of story. Secondly, write the best story you can. Don’t compare yourself to other authors and their journeys. You’re unique and only you can tell the story God has nudged in your heart.
Lisa: People often ask me where I do my writing. For years I did my writing on laptop computer, but through a series of happenstances and trial and error, I have discovered the magic of dictation. For the last couple years, I’ve been doing much of my writing via dictation on iPhone or iPad. This can look and sound fairly insane, but it has been a wonderful productivity tool for me, and very freeing in the creative sense. It allows me to put on a headset and write literally anywhere. Sometimes I’ll wander to the back pasture for a walk, or spend some time in the exercise room and dictate parts of the story while I’m there… usually with my little literary dog curled up nearby. A change of scenery or physical activity is often exactly what I need to get the words flowing. Dani, where are you most productive?
Dani: I’m most productive on my office couch. I curl up in front of the sunroom windows with a notebook, pen, my Labrador and a good cup of coffee. Coffee is a must! I’ve also found I’m most productive writing longhand. There’s something freeing and creative in the process for me. Sit me in front of a blank computer screen and I freeze.
Dani, thanks for hanging out with us on the porch! I don’t know about you, but I’ve enjoyed the conversation! If you’d like to learn more about Dani and her books, visit her at http://www.danipettrey.com/
To celebrate Dani’s visit, we’re having a giveaway. One lucky winner will receive autographed copies of Stranded and Wildwood Creek! To enter, leave a comment at the bottom of this post, answering the question of the day. The contest ends Friday, and we’ll announce the winner on Saturday. If you’d like us to contact you (if you win) leave an email address in your comment.
Question of the day: Do you remember a favorite reading moment? Tell us about it!
The Prayer Box — Selected as One of Booklist’s Top Ten of 2013!