|Patricia McLinn - Continued|
follow any standard plotting or characterization strategies. No charts,
no bios, no outlines, no color-coded
As I mentioned before, most of my books started with the characters talking in my head. It's rather like eavesdropping on people in a restaurant. (Everybody does eavesdrop in restaurants, don't they?) Then, like getting to know new friends, I find out bits and pieces about the characters, some here, some there, rarely in chronological order.
So, I write whatever I know, whichever scene is clear in my head, whatever dialogue comes rolling out. After jumping around like this for an unpredictable amount of time, I have a mass of scenes, snippets and ideas strung together. I have to step back and look for the beginning, middle and end.
At this point I almost always consult a book called Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger, which, for me, is the clearest delineation of dramatic structure. I check my strung-together mass against that structure, sharpening the turning points and checking that the characters change in a believable, interesting arc.
Crescent Blues: How can a writer determine what is the best writing strategy for him or her?
Patricia McLinn: The best writing strategy is the one that works at that moment. There's no guarantee it will work for the next book or even the next scene -- at least for me. Some writers seem to find a method that works for them and are able to rely on it. For me, each individual set of characters, each individual story requires an individual approach. I've tried to be more methodical about my writing -- for example, starting at the beginning [grins] -- and it stopped me dead. It dawned on me that writing my way was greatly preferable to not writing at all.
Crescent Blues: Your bio mentions that you've been a journalist and an editor. What were some of the newspapers and other periodicals?
Patricia McLinn: After graduating from Northwestern, I was a sportswriter for the Rockford Morning Star and Rockford Register Republic in Rockford, Ill. I was so green when I started there that I didn't know what time to leave my first day of work! Some of the people I worked with there remain among my dearest friends.
But after living all my life in Northern Illinois, a winter with back-to-back blizzards had me applying to papers south of the Mason-Dixon line. I received a tremendous education at The Charlotte Observer (N.C.), with another crew of talented, terrific people. I took a job there as a copy editor in the sports department and was assistant sports editor when I left to come to The Washington Post. I now work part-time as an editor in the Post operation of the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service.
Crescent Blues: How did your experiences as a journalist and an editor shape the way you write fiction?
Patricia McLinn: As an editor you're often juggling several stories, forced to pick up one and drop another by a question or a phone call or art requirements or deadlines or a thousand other reasons. I suspect that is part of the explanation for why I write the way I do.
I also tend to work on several projects at once, trading off on them to stay fresh. I'm sure my journalistic experience of keeping several trains of thought on track simultaneously has helped there, too. In addition, I feel certain that being an editor of other writing has both made me a better technical writer and a more stringent self-editor -- not a perfect self-editor by any means, but better.
Crescent Blues: How did Patricia McLaughlin, journalist, become Patricia McLinn, novelist? What prompted the name change?
Patricia McLinn: The dream of writing novels came first. In fact, my undergraduate major was "English composition." You might have noticed there are not a lot of job want ads looking for English composition majors. So journalism was a bow to practicality.
After establishing my journalism career, the urge to write resurfaced. I took a pseudonym at the publishers request. However, I've found it provides an advantage, because it indicates whether someone is approaching my writing persona or my newspaper persona.
Crescent Blues: When you decided the time had come to write your first novel, why did you choose to write a romance?
Patricia McLinn: The question makes it sound as if I had a master plan, and I can't make that claim.
What really happened was I had bought a then 40-year-old house with three and sometimes four layers of wallpaper with paint over each layer on every wall in the house. As I was laboriously chipping wallpaper off plaster walls bit by bit, a story idea started bugging me.
It kept growing as I wrote until it became book length. It sprawled across several genres and I made about every beginner mistake possible in writing it as well as submitting it. But two of the three professionals who responded suggested I try romance. I had read very little romance growing up, so I dove into reading them.
In six weeks, I covered about 20 years of romance writing in roughly chronological order. By the time I'd reached writers such as Jennifer Green and Kathleen Eagle, I knew I wanted to write romance. Any time I'd get stuck writing, I had to go back to chipping the wallpaper, and let me tell you, old wallpaper dust can sure rouse the muse!
Crescent Blues: What do you find most appealing about the genre?
Patricia McLinn: "Most" should only be one, since it's a superlative (there's the editor in me coming out [grins]), but I need at least two. I find the focus on characters' emotional lives extremely appealing. Emotions are both universal and infinitely variable -- boy, if that's not fodder for a writer, I don't know what is.
I also find the hopefulness of the romance genre appealing. By that I don't mean a "happily ever after" ending, but the idea that romance characters, troubled as they might be, are not likely to sit in a corner and wring their hands while moaning "Woe is me." They are much more likely to work on their problems, to strive, to grow.
Those are the kind of people and the kind of characters I want to spend my time on. If you'll allow some paraphrasing here... I heard the esteemed actress Jessica Tandy say in an interview once that she wanted to make the kind of movies that would leave viewers feeling glad to be a member of the human race. The romance genre can give readers that feeling.
Crescent Blues: What do you find the most difficult aspect about writing in this area?
Patricia McLinn: That's a very interesting question, because it's made me realize I don't have a good answer. The difficulties I have are more struggling with the process, which I don't think would change with another genre. Hmmm... that one's going to roll around in my head for a while.
Crescent Blues: Would you like to branch out into other genres?
Crescent Blues: Widow Woman is your first published historical. What inspired you to make the shift from contemporary romances to a historical?
Patricia McLinn: I've been fascinated by history all my life, so writing a historical was always a goal. The surprise to me was…