Geaux2girl readers have heard her name before. Most recently, I bragged on Sandi because I'd just seen her newest work of art on the bookshelves at Sam's Club. You may remember this cover page:
I promised a more comprehensive discussion about this medical thriller, and now is the time. I'll give you a synopsis, but mostly I want to ask Sandi a few questions about writing. She's not only successfully hopped from fiction to non-fiction and back again--which agents and publishers say is incredibly difficult--she also teaches creative writing and mentors many of her students (ahem) who often go on to become authors themselves. Sandi shares some thoughts on the writing process, her favorite and least favorite parts of writing, and other entertaining topics. Listen in...
Do you ever struggle with writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Never. I know…I almost feel guilty saying it. I attribute that to my second grade teacher, who had me write one story a day and raved about whatever I wrote. By the time I was old enough to realize nobody’s that good, it was too late. A brain has two sides, right? The creator and the editor. And she allowed the creator to run wild without introducing the editor. Ever. And as a result I have an extravagant sense of confidence about the first draft. Then I re-read it, and it stinks. Totally. But it’s too late. It’s already out there. And nobody ever complains about editor’s block. I’m not saying I recommend her style. Surely a second-grade teacher should help a student with grammar and spelling, right? But she never mentioned it. And that approach worked for me.
What was your very first story you ever wrote?
What is the most difficult part of writing for you or was when you first started on your writing journey?
I still struggle with expressing character emotion. I feel like I’ll insult the reader if I stop to say “the shock of the news hit like a two-by-four in the back of the head.” I figure if I tell the horrible circumstance, the reader has enough imagination to feel what any normal soul would feel. I want to say simply “His dad died in a plane crash,” and let the reader fill in the emotional blanks. Yet everybody experiences shock and grief differently. For some the room spins. For others it shrinks. For some it grabs in the pit of the stomach. Or it feels like a physical jolt. It’s part of my job as a developer of character to choose how this character will react and respond. When the emotions get intense, I need to slow down and let the reader enter the character’s head. But I’d rather get on with the plot.
Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision.
Once I have a germ idea, I come up with the beginning, middle, and end. Then I figure out the in-between points. Next, I create the main characters. I have four pages of questions I answer for each. About thirty percent of novel-crafting for me is the pre-writing imaginative work on the plot and character sketches. Then I choose a setting. I ask myself how I can use setting to communicate something. Where was Jezebel when she stole the vineyard? In Jezreel. Where was she years later when dogs ate her? Jezreel. The setting tells more than a place. It says something about the character of God. So I try to choose a setting that communicates on a deeper level. All the time I’m making these choices, I deliberate about the best way to tell the story. First-person? Third-person? Who will be the main POV character? Why?
After that I craft a proposal. It starts with a one-paragraph synopsis. While my agent shops it around, I develop the summary into a chapter-by-chapter outline. And then I make a file for each chapter and start dumping in ideas.
When my agent has some success, he calls.
What is your favorite thing about writing?
I love it when the muse flows and I lose myself in the world of my characters. Three hours later I’ll look at the clock and marvel at how time has flown. It’s like going to a good movie and seeing a story you don’t want to end.
I loathe the page-proof stage, where I get the stack of questions or suggested changes from the publisher. I don’t mind the feedback—it’s always been great. But actually making the changes…talk about tedium. [That's why you need people like me, Sandi... :)]
How do you get ideas for stories?
Television, Wired Magazine, headlines, internet, overheard conversations, personal angst. You name it.
Jeremy Cramer, the next Einstein of research, is a medical resident specializing in infectious diseases. While working on a way to revive water submersion victims, he makes surprising discoveries, while also living with massive guilt over incidental infections that occur (which he could have prevented). Even as his marriage teeters, his career continues to skyrocket. Then, with a few twists along the way, he finds everything he has fought for threatened by the most personal, most heart-wrenching, choices of all.
I love exploring bioethics, and this book allowed me to consider end-of-life issues, patient rights, a compassionate response to HIV-AIDS…lots of edutainment.
Go buy this book, people. It will fascinate, entertain, keep you up past your bedtime, make you think, make you cry.
If you check out Sandi's blog aspire2.blogspot.com, you'll notice she also released two bible studies this summer. If, after you finish Informed Consent, you are looking for that next study guide for your small group, here it is. Ruth, Colossians, Esther, Judges...take your pick of these and others. You won't find a study that so richly describes and explains the significance of biblical culture and language, making God's Word relevant to you and me as she draws the truth of the text out and applies it to our lives today. Pick one up today...I mean, after you finish the novel!