1weird_thesecretMany people struggle to be creative. We see creative people and their work around us and compare ourselves. We don’t know how to be creative, or worse, we did once, and now we’re feeling blocked, bored or unsure. Tired of this happening to you?

Hi. I’m Adam J. Kurtz, and my new journal, 1 Page at a Time, can help. A daily creative companion, this book will assist in the journey back to your creative self. Through exercises and challenges “proven” to help, you too can harness your mind. You too can feel the guiding light of creativity as it pushes you to accomplish incredible feats of “ART” in the workplace, and in your personal life. You’ll write! You’ll cry!

For a limited time, all this is available for only — say it with me: 1! PAGE! AT A TIME!

The Endless Journey

The Endless Journey

If only it were that easy. A single book that could change everything, a quick fix, a ten-step program that could make the difference. The bad news is that creativity, like most things, is a journey. The good news? You’ve already started. As a living, breathing human being you are already creative. Congratulations! Simply processing the world around you is a creative feat. Getting dressed. Choosing lunch. Everything is creativity, everything is art, and you have everything you need. Your way of looking at things, the way you consume and digest all play a role.

When we think of creative accomplishments, we tend to think of the end result. The completed manuscript, mastered files, or framed piece. We get so caught up in that tangible end goal that we might not even see the creativity itself: the emotions, thinking, sketches and planning that led to that final output.

Creative Switch

Creative Switch

There’s no quick fix because there can’t be. There’s no switch to flip because your creativity is constantly flowing, you just might be letting it slip by. So instead of rushing forward, slow down. Take a deep breath. What are you thinking right now? What is the root of that emotion? Let’s talk about something else. Where have you traveled before? What would you write in a letter to a seven-year-old? Get up and walk away. Staring a problem in the face isn’t going to solve anything. Staring yourself in the face might. Write everything down and look at it. Make a couple of lists. Have some water, swish it around your mouth until it’s lukewarm, then swallow it. Okay, where were we, and where do we stand now?

Harness a small bit of yourself every day. A tiny piece. Something that feels irrelevant or useless. Put it to paper, then come back tomorrow. Our goals can be so daunting that we forget all the good advice we already know. “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” “Slow and steady wins the race!” Take small steps to accomplish your larger tasks. Follow your gut or your heart or whichever parts make your decisions. Remember that nothing really matters, no matter how important it might seem right now. Life moves on. The universe does what it wants. Have a little faith or take the whole leap. Your only job is to keep moving on. That’s creativity. It’s not a painting, it’s continuing to process, progress, and enjoy your life as you make it through.

Build Slowly

Build Slowly

But what do I know? I’m just some guy on the internet.

1 Page at a Time is a lot of things. It’s a diary. It’s a sketchbook. It’s a rulebook, a guidebook, a playbook and a yearbook. It’s whatever you want, with a healthy dose of optimism. And cynicism. It’s human. And it’s going to push you along your creative journey in the same way it helped me on mine.

Photo Credit: Ryan Pfluger

 

Adam J. Kurtz is a graphic designer, artist, and serious person. He is primarily concerned with creating honest, accessible work, including a range of small products and the self-published “unsolicited advice” calendar series. He is the author of no other books.

He currently lives in New York City. Visit AdamJK.com, @AdamJK, & jkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjk.com (or don’t!).


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When I was given the job of heading up Fredrick Warne publishing in the U.S., I ran home and found my old, worn copies of the Peter Rabbit stories. Memories of reading these books, about a strong-willed rabbit (both as a child and to my own children) flooded back to me. The books were worn, but well loved!

Beatrix Potter, the creator of these beloved books, was a talented and generous woman. But she was also a determined lady and not shy about speaking her mind. When The Tale of Peter Rabbit was turned down by several publishers, she was not defeated—she published it herself! And when the book was eventually picked up by Frederick Warne, Beatrix was not shy about telling her editor what she liked and didn’t like about the editorial process! Speaking your mind might not seem an out-of-the-ordinary character trait for young women today, but Beatrix lived during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and you know all too well how women back then were expected to behave!

Fast-forward 100-plus years to another strong, outspoken woman—the formidable actress and activist Emma Thompson—who has written her third original Peter Rabbit tale, The Spectacular Tale of Peter Rabbit. What I admire about Emma Thompson is that she is outspoken, elegant, and immensely talented. Both Beatrix Potter and Emma Thompson channeled their individuality through little Peter Rabbit, who is wise yet rash, funny yet dignified, and always a tad mischievous—sound familiar?

SpectacularPeterRabbitIn The Spectacular Tale of Peter Rabbit, Peter’s thrill-seeking nature remains undimmed. He is still the little rabbit who doesn’t know the meaning of the word no. So, when a spectacular fair comes to town and Peter is told he can’t attend—well, you know exactly what he will do. And in case you don’t, or want to find out, pick up a copy of the book. You can also listen to the tale, which is beautifully narrated by Emma Thompson, on the CD that comes with the book.

Strong women, a strong rabbit—timeless lessons to be learned!

View all of Penguin’s Peter Rabbit Tales!


TheLostWifeWhen writing novels, one never knows where inspiration will strike.   A few years ago, I was well into my research for a book on the ways that Jewish artists managed to create art during the Holocaust, when I overheard a story at the local hair salon about a couple who were separated at the beginning of the war with each of them being told that the other had perished. Sixty years later, they miraculously were reunited at the wedding of their respective grandchildren.  When I overheard that story, I felt like I had been struck by lightning.  My mind was filled with so many questions: why had this couple each believed the other had died? What was their initial love story? What were their second love stories that produced the children who were now the parents of the grandchildren getting married?  And most importantly, how did they each survive World War II?

This story would end up being the bookends for my novel The Lost Wife, into which I invented the lovers’ histories both before and after their separation.

I wanted to draw in my readers by evoking the same questions that I had after initially hearing that story.  I wanted those questions to propel them into the same journey I too would undertake while crafting the body of the novel.

TheGardenofLettersThe inspiration for my new novel The Garden of Letters, also began after hearing a story that ignited my curiosity.  While at a dinner party, a friend shared with me the details about how her father had escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers that their family had spent their entire life savings on.  When my friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully that he was sure he was going to be arrested.

Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week.  Thank heaven’s you’ve come!”

He was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

When my friend’s father asked this man why he had saved him, for clearly he wasn’t his cousin, the man replied:  “I try to come to the port every month.  I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.”

When I heard that story I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel.  I imagined the two people whose lives intersect at this occupied Italian port.    One fleeing and in need of shelter.  The other a person who sees that fear and sets upon helping him.   “The Garden of Letters” opens with my young heroine being saved from the Germans at the Portofino port by a doctor.

As in all my novels, I wanted my main character to possess a creative gift.  With The Lost Wife, I explored how art could be used as a form of Resistance against the Nazis.  In The Garden of Letters, I explore how music could be used.

My main character Elodie, is a young cellist who sends coded messages for the Italian Resistance through her performances And the book explores the many creative ways essential information was transmitted during the war.

When I traveled to Italy to meet with partisans and female messengers who were involved in the Resistance, I was introduced to a person who shared with me another unusual way information was sent during the war.  Giovanni Pellizzato, whose grandfather was both a bookseller and an active member of the Italian Resistance, described how codes were cleverly hidden throughout the pages of a book, and how within the back shelves of his father’s bookstore many of the books had their paper carved out to create a space where pistols were stored inside.  This information was so intriguing to me, it inspired the character of the bookseller, Luca, in The Garden of Letters.

As storytellers, we’re responsible for crafting narratives that bring our readers into a world that transport and hopefully inform.  As writers, however, we must also be open to all the stories that surround us, for everyone has a unique history to share.


photoAt BEA I sat down with Azar Nafisi, author of The Republic of Imagination to discuss her book, her writing style, and more. Azar Nafisi is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I’ve Been Silent About. She is a passionate advocate of books and reading, and currently lives in Washington, D.C.

 

Can you tell me a little bit about how you get in the writing mood? Do you have a certain place that you like to write? Do you listen to certain music?

First of all I get very excited about it, you know and the idea doesn’t leave me. So my first attempts at writing come through writing on these notes that I carry everywhere I go. Like I’m sitting on the metro, I’m going to—even sometimes in the middle of grocery shopping, I put my cart to one side and start writing, so that is how it all starts. Then when the quote unquote–I think this is very serious–but when serious writing starts, I work in my office which is at home. Because if I go to my office at work I won’t be able to. I don’t like to have people whom I know around me. A lot of times I go to the museum’s coffee shops, like Phillips Museum is one of my favorite coffee shops or National Gallery in Washington. I go and write, and then I go watch my favorite pictures and then come back to writing. I like to be writing in a public place where nobody knows me, so that I have life around me, but you know, so that is how I write. It’s fun! You know I really wish that we had more wonderful coffee shops. But there is one coffee shop, one Starbucks on the waterfront that I like, and I like the people there, we all get to know one another. So it is really enjoyable and painful (laughs).

 

Do you have any specific writer inspirations, any passages from other authors or from literature that really stick with you?

Oh yes, I mean right now because I’m writing this book for example, certain quotations or words by some authors become so intimate, that sometimes I say it as if they’re mine. You know I cannot–this happened when I was writing this book I had been giving talks and writing about Saul Bellow. And I kept saying ‘as Saul Bellow says, those who survive the ordeal of the holocaust, will they survive the ordeal of freedom’. And then the copywriter says we can’t find this quote (laughs). And I realized that I have just made it my own, I had taken the ordeal from him and the sufferings–I mean you know I had taken the concept and you know created my own. But other writers, their words become like your flesh and blood. And that is why language is so important, you know it is the way they connect you. There is that inspiration, sometimes one quotation gets you to investigate, and that is what happened with Baldwin. I first started with all these amazing quotations Baldwin had about literature’s meaning as freedom, and taking risk with writing or reading stories. And by and by, I wrote on Baldwin.

 

I know that your current book was inspired by a comment someone made. Can you tell me a little bit how that turned into a full-on book?

You know it didn’t start so much with a comment; it started with an idea that kept obsessing me. And it started with when I was in Iran. My students in Iran, because we lived in such a limited world at that time, their idea of the Western America was really–‘we want to go there,’ you know ‘we want to be there’. And I felt they’re not getting everything, they’re not getting the complications and the paradoxes. The ordeals of freedom, you know? So over there I taught them Saul Bellow’s Dean’s December, which was about the ordeals of living in a tyranny and the ordeals of living in the west. And that idea was in my mind, and I came here and I wrote Reading Lolita and the idea came back because I thought–so many people told me ‘oh you were living in this condition and that is why you loved to read. In a democracy, you know, books are not that central’. And that bothered me, that comment bothered me. Does a democracy not need imagination? And that started it. I started responding to that question—can a democracy live without a democratic imagination? That’s how it started.

 

Can you tell me in terms of your friends, the people who you like to spend time with, what is the most important value in a friend for you?

I mean especially since I went back to Iran and then I came here. There is good people whom you feel very close to, it’s like with books. There is that initial instinct that you connect and you don’t know why. I mean I can tell you what I value most in a friend, but it doesn’t happen that way. You know and a lot of times your friends are the ones that–actually my friends are the ones whom I am most comfortable revealing myself to. I am not scared of them seeing all the warts (laughs). And there is a deep empathy where you accept critically because the love is strong enough to carry it. And since I have been living between two cultures, I realized that my best friends become the ones who have something of both cultures in them. And necessarily your friends don’t have to be like you. Because they have to complement you, not to affirm you. I don’t like someone who doesn’t question me, and that is why, for the chapter on Huck Finn, this woman I talk about she was my best childhood friend. And we were not alike; you know she was very pragmatic, very serious. And I was very flighty and you know very—but you know we loved the sparring. So that is the kind of friend.

 

Do you have a guilty pleasure or a favorite movie or book?

Well you know, the only guilty pleasure I have, which I constantly talk about, is of course eating ice cream. But—coffee ice cream—but the point with books are that—I am very promiscuous with works of art. I don’t feel elitist at all about it because I am in love with mystery tales and I am in love with quote unquote very serious ones. So from Flaubert and Dante and Shakespeare, to Chandler and Ian Rankin or Sara Paretsky, I read the ones that are good and I enjoy it. I don’t know if that counts as a guilty pleasure? But unfortunately it is an open guilty pleasure. And I make a point of saying it because I don’t like formulas for art. You know, American movies, the best were Marks Brothers—In  Iran we got to watching old movies. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. Those were fantastic, as are the very intellectual films, I love Woody Allen and I love Jean Godard or Renoir.

 

If you were to describe why you think reading is important, in one sentence, what would you say?

Reading is breathing.

AzarNafisi_TheRepublicofImagination

 

In The Republic of Imagination, taking her cue from a challenge thrown to her in Seattle, where a skeptical reader told her that Americans don’t care about books the way they did back in Iran, Azar Nafisi energetically responds to those who say fiction has nothing to teach us. Blending memoir and polemic with close readings of her favorite American novels—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, among others—she invites us to join her as citizens of her “Republic of Imagination,” a country where the villains are conformity and orthodoxy and the only passport to entry is a free mind and a willingness to dream.


Helen in Love, Rosie SultanIt was a cold day in February and I was stalled. The writing of my novel, Helen In Love—which fictionalizes the story of Helen Keller’s secret love affair—wasn’t working. I’d done years of research: files littered my desk, photographs of Keller hung on my study walls, newspaper clippings from 1916—the year of the novel—blared their headlines of how Keller spoke out against the United States entering into World War I.

I had so many letters, photos, and books about my subject that I should have been able to write the novel in—what? A month? Two at most?

Well, it wasn’t happening. My characters felt stiff on the page—bloodless. I pushed them around like cardboard cutouts and after more time than I want to say—okay, after four years of writing—I finally did what any novelist worth her salt does in moments of frustration. I quit.

The next day, during a blustery snowstorm, I walked into my study. Instead of opening my computer, I left it shut. Then I ran my eyes over the bookshelves lining my walls. Please, I prayed to the writing Gods. Let me find a book to jump-start my writing.

And then I saw it. Way down on the bottom shelf, a flare of red caught my eye. The red cover of a novel I’d picked up years earlier but had never read now grabbed me. No, that cover didn’t grab me: it dragged me in. Blood red, this cover, with a Klimt-like female figure in a red dress, her black hair flowing, her dress enfolding her like a shroud.

And who was this figure on the book’s cover?

Madame Mao.

I moved to the couch in my study and opened the pages of Anchee Min’s mesmerizing novel, Becoming Madame Mao (Mariner Books).

All that week I walked in to my study at noon and stayed on the corner couch with Min’s novel until the sun went down. I was completely engrossed in the story of Madame Mao: her early years of desperation, then her love affairs, and a kind of heat rose up off of the page as I read. Min’s portrait of a woman I’d only known as the wife of Mao Tse-tung, Former Chairman of Communist Party of China, defied all of my expectations.

Gone was my image of Madame Mao as the tiny, grey-clad figure I’d seen on TV when she and her cohorts were charged with being the “Gang of Four.” No, this Madame Mao, told with Min’s careful shifts from first and third person, sizzled with life, lust, desperation, and greed.

She was human. She was fierce. She was very flawed.

And loved her.

When I finished the book later that week, I knew that fiery, flawed Madame Mao had freed my writing.

I flipped open my computer ready to do something different. The story I wrote, of another icon, might do something similar. Helen Keller, too, was not just her public image: a demure, school-teacherish, icon–preachy and dull. Rather, she was a suffragette, a supporter of civil rights as early as 1916, a firebrand socialist whose outspoken opinions offended many. And she was a woman who craved love.

As I wrote I felt—no, I was—alive to the story of the real Helen Keller. The one who wanted to “wear high heels and drink gin.” The woman who, despite worldwide fame and good works, said with great bitterness at her life’s end, “Had I been sighted, I would have married first of all.”

Several months later my novel was finished. The red copy of Anchee Min’s book was creased and worn on my desk. But my characters were alive.

And so I say thank you to the person I least expected would renew my writing.

Thank you, Madame Mao.


The Lair, Emily McKayNow that the second book in the Farm series is out, I get a lot of people asking me which book was harder to write. Of course, the truth is, all books are hard to write. There’s the grueling emotional toll that writing takes on you (and if it’s not emotionally grueling, you’re not digging deep enough). And then there’s the sheer willpower it takes to sit your butt in the chair and put fingers to keyboard. That’s the same for every book. And then, there are the problems that are unique for every book. Each story taps into your fears and emotions in a different way.

When I wrote The Lair, the opening action of the book takes place at Base Camp, where the teenagers who are part of the rebellion are living. It’s winter. They’re in the mountains. And all of civilization has collapsed around them. I spent a lot of time worrying about how to feed these two hundred plus imaginary people. It’s a world without grocery stores! A world without fast food! Where is the food coming from?

The question doesn’t even take up that much of the book. It’s just something I thought about a lot. It got in my head. I found myself creeping out of bed in the middle of the night to research how to stockpile food. Did you know you can have a year’s worth of food drop shipped to your house? Did you know you can make a candle out of a can of Crisco? Did you know it’s still possible to get scurvy if you don’t get enough vitamin C? This is the kind of information that can really mess with your head.

Then one day, I went to the grocery store and they were completely out of zucchini. I freaked out, sure this was a sign of the coming apocalypse. So … um, yeah. I sort of started stock piling food.

But here’s the thing about book-related insanity: it comes and goes. Now that my Lair-related crazy has passed, my brief foray into prepping has allowed me to make a generous donation to my local food bank. That’s a good thing, right?

I’ve moved on to other forms of crazy, now. Like wondering whether evil monsters will ever invade our world from a parallel universe. And if they do, will grocery stores still operate?


Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailWhen I was a little girl, I used to sit upstairs and look out my bedroom window for so long that the field was transformed into a giant playground. It was filled with modern and brand-new monkey bars, tall swings, sliding boards, see-saws -– you name it. My street wasn’t hard-packed dirt, it was smooth black asphalt, like it was in white neighborhoods. The trash and dead-branch-filled ditch in front of our house became a clean swooshing stream. We had a front porch, where the floorboards were painted a shiny bright blue, the railing was in tact and a beautiful wooden swing swung back and forth next to a wicker table that housed a frothy pitcher of iced tea. This, instead of walking out the front door and breaking your neck when you dropped three feet into a puddle of sand, and where the overhang was held up by two-by-fours.

My bedroom had starched eyelet curtains, a box spring and thick firm mattress, velvety carpet and enough heat or cool air coming out of the vents to make the hair on the nape of my neck tickle. I had a dresser with drawers that actually pulled out in one tug, and little bottles of perfume sitting on lace doilies. Instead, during winter, there was ice on the inside of the window, piles of thin blankets on a mattress with broken springs that dipped in the middle so my sister and I would spend more energy than we needed to trying not to bump butts; summer, we burned up at night and had to stick our heads out the window to breathe. The floor gave us splinters, and when it was dark, we knew how to avoid the holes. We used buckets to catch the rain that dripped right through the pink insulation.

“Are you deaf, girl?” my mother would say, finally coming up the tight stairwell to see if I was doing something I had no business doing because that had to be the only reason I was pretending not to hear her. But I didn’t hear her. I was busy, recreating my world just the way I wanted it.

I still do this.

Except now I understand why. Over the years, I learned that there are some things in the world that are perfect, beautiful, and in total harmony: mountains, forests, rivers, etc. Over the years, I’ve experienced and witnessed happiness, a sense of worth and well-being, being in love, the notion of being guided in the right direction. On the other hand, I’ve experiences and observed uncertainty, frustration, pain in a variety of forms, misery, unhappiness, depression, lovelessness, loneliness, a feeling of being lost, of floating out there in the ozone, faithlessness, and anger. Well, hell, I needed an outlet for all these feelings and I found it in my fingers.

What I found was that I was not alone, that even when I could “fix” things in my own life, there were still so many wrongs I saw happening to others that I took it personally. So I have continuously asked myself that if I could alter reality to make it better, how would I do it? First, I have to know what’s wrong, then I have to understand why and then how to go about fixing it. It sounds easier than it is because many other things come into play, like dealing with human beings totally unlike myself. Which means I have had to develop this thing called compassion, that I’ve had to learn to dismiss (in some cases) my own notion of right and wrong, and literally put myself in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes I resist, because it’s easier to resist than it is to surrender. When you surrender it’s scary because you feel out of control. I like being in control.

However, if I were able to stop questioning why we as people are not happy and content, why it is so difficult to live more qualitative lives, then I’d be able to stop writing. On the contrary, I know there is no such thing as being perfect or living a perfect life. But, I also know that most people want to know that there will be a time in one’s life where things will go smoothly. Where we can smile for a period of time.

So why don’t we? What kinds of things stand in our way or what kind of obstacles do we impose on ourselves? I think most of us know what we want, but what happens when we don’t or can’t get it? It could be a man. A job. A home. Peace of mind. Energy. More willpower. What’s stopping us?

Well, I like to count the ways, and I do it dramatically. I would like to see more of us happier, healthier, fresher, more eager to please each other as well as ourselves.

I guess, then, I could say that I write because I want to explore the condition of my own life and the lives of others so that it makes sense, so it means something, so that I might learn from yesterday and right now how it can be of use in the future. I want to be a stronger person, smarter, more interesting. Better able to handle rejection and pain and guilt and happiness. I want my life to matter. I want others to know that their lives matter. That we have more power than we realize. And that all we really have is right now.


Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailFive memorable moments as a writer:

1) When I received a letter from an anthology advising me that they were publishing my short story.

2) When I wrote the last sentence of my first novel, Mama, and knew it was the last sentence. My chest sunk and I believe I lost quite a few ounces of tears.

3) When Waiting To Exhale debuted on the New York Times Bestseller’s list. I didn’t believe it. Not even after I saw it.

4) When I have written the first sentence of each novel, and I never change them. It’s how I open the door to the story.

5) When I realize what my next novel is going to be. And then am plagued by how in the world I’m going to tell it.


gallery_of_vanished_husbandsI’ve now written three novels (that’s three if you don’t count the awful one lurking in a box beneath the bed—we don’t have monsters living in our house, we have failed novels). I suppose that means I should have some confidence as I know, if nothing else, how to write and finish a book. I should know what the process is like. But I’ve found writing each book to be a very different experience.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands has been the most emotional book to write. Shortly after I started writing, I discovered that I was pregnant, and then, as often happens, I miscarried. For the first time in my life I was too sad to write. I’ve read Keats and I know that melancholy is supposed to be literary rocket fuel, but it didn’t work like that for me. Or perhaps it only works with melancholy—that beautiful sadness—but simple, dragging unhappiness and grief left me empty and quiet inside and for a while, unable to write.

After a couple of months, I picked up the novel, re-read it like a stranger and started to slowly write myself out of unhappiness and back into the book. Then, a few months in, I found I was pregnant again. This time everything was fine and my excitement and anxiety about impending motherhood worked its way into my novel. The children in the story had voices that very much wanted to be heard. I had to get out of the way and let them speak.

The novel grew in time with my belly. I’d intended it to be on the short side (I always do, it’s not happened yet) but by the summer, it was quite clear that it would be touch-and-go as to whether manuscript or baby was delivered first. In the end, I finished the novel first, but only by a matter of days and only because our son, Luke, had the generosity to be late.

After the baby came the edit. Much like children, novels don’t arrive fully formed and ready to go off into the world, but take a good deal of nurturing. I worked while Luke slept—sometimes in a Moses basket at my feet, sometimes on my shoulder as I typed with one hand. Those days are merged with my memories of new motherhood, when time feels like it’s on fast-forward and each moment is so precious and fleeting, I found myself growing nostalgic for the present. It was an odd experience to re-read passages about my protagonist, Juliet Montague’s views and experiences of motherhood, which I’d written before becoming a mother myself. Sometimes I was tempted to change details but in the end I realized that her experiences were simply different from mine. I might have created her, but we didn’t need to agree on all things.

I’m now starting to write something new. For the first time in a few years, I don’t have all day to procrastinate and think about writing. There’s no time for rituals—when I have a moment to myself, I’m at my desk. I’m not sure how the process of writing will turn out. All I know is that much like a child it will be unique and quite different from the others.


mortal_artsSometimes the plot of a story develops out of a character’s development. Sometimes it comes from a picture or an article or a real world event. Sometimes it arises from the setting itself. And sometimes it grows from one single, vivid scene that the author simply can’t get out of their head.

When I began working on the plot for the second novel in my Lady Darby Mystery Series, Mortal Arts, I already had several elements in place. I knew I would be continuing Kiera, Lady Darby’s journey, as well as that of the other characters, and I knew where I wanted their development to take them in the second book. I knew I wanted Kiera to travel to Edinburgh, and I knew I wanted her to team up again with gentleman inquiry agent—and romantic entanglement—Sebastian Gage. I had also decided I wanted art to play a major role in the second novel, as Kiera is a gifted portrait artist. But beyond that, I was stumped for ideas as to what I wanted the actual mystery to be.

I researched the history of the area at that time for interesting events, but nothing leaped out at me. It also seemed important not to rehash the same elements of the first novel in the series, so that restricted by natural temptation to delve into the aftermath of the Burke and Hare murders.

And then it came to me. This one emotionally intense scene I could see so clearly. I knew immediately I had to use it, but to do so I had to figure out what was going on. Where was this room that looked like a bedchamber? Who was the man in the corner, and why was he drawing on the walls? What was Kiera’s connection to him? And why was the scene filled with such sadness and despair?

As I began to answer these questions, my story developed. I learned of Kiera’s childhood friends, the Dalmays, and how the oldest son William acted as her art tutor one summer. I discovered how William had been damaged by the war with Napoleon, and how his own father had him locked up in a lunatic asylum. And I met the younger brother, Michael, who managed William’s release, but worries that perhaps his brother should not be out. That perhaps not everyone is safe with him allowed to roam free.

That is where Kiera and the estimable Mr. Gage step in—to find the missing girl everyone is so concerned about, and to prove William’s guilt or innocence, once and for all.

Whether it starts with the character development, or the setting, or a single scene—it is always the questions that drive the story, for the author and the reader. The who, what, when, why, how of our characters, and the crimes they may solve or commit.

Read an interview with Anna Lee Huber on the Penguin website.