Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella was the first book I ever reviewed on my blog. I was so excited about this book that I had to let people know about it! Laura’s weaving together of a mystery, a romance and the supernatural into a compelling story is what I am attempting with my current WIP. Laura, I am so pleased to welcome you to my blog today!
Please talk about Ghost Gifts. What was the first seed of an idea for this book? How did it develop?
Ghost Gifts is my fourth published novel, and the one that’s certainly drawn the largest audience. That’s not to say I don’t love all my books equally, including my romantic suspense series written as L. J. Wilson. When it comes to inception, Ghost Gifts definitely has the most multifaceted history. For example, I actually had the main character’s job as a real estate reporter for a number of years. Add to that the town I live in; they host a carnival on our common annually, which sparked the premise of a girl with a psychic gift who grows up in that environment. As for a “big hook,” Aubrey’s psychic gift—I’m not sure. We live in a 125 year-old house, and I do feel like the atmosphere was an influence. Developmentally, the story elements were very puzzle-like, and fortunately the pieces came together.
You combined all of those aspects beautifully in the book. How would you describe your writing process? Do you outline? Let the muse lead you? Or something else?
I doubt you’d find two writers who answer this question the same—and no one author would be right. For me, the muse always leads. She kind of delivers the setup and from there it’s sort of an “ah-ha” moment that delivers basic bones. I will outline on index cards and tack them to a corkboard in a storyline order. Interestingly, I never make it past the halfway point with this method, though I try every time. Eventually, the urge to write takes over and we just go. Funny, right now if you refer back to my storyboard you’ll find I outlined Unstrung (February 2017) up to about page 200. Then it just stops. Until that point, the index cards stay fairly true to the story, although I changed the main character’s name, which is kind of disconcerting. I’m more apt to keep the story in my head than trying to keep track of it with notes. It’s just how it works for me.
I think we’re “process” soulmates–my muse’s name is Boris. What is your research process like? Do you enjoy it?
Research can be a lot of fun; it can also be a major PIA. I’m always grateful when any professional will take time to share their insights with me. But depending on what you need, it can be tough to find someone to help you out. For Ghost Gifts I lucked out because I have newspaper contacts. With Unstrung, my next Laura Spinella novel, I needed a symphony violinist and oncology specialist—not so easy to pin down. But it worked out in the end. I had a violinist with the Boston Conservatory assist with much of my musical research, and a leukemia specialist from Mass General offer a bit of his time. You have to be willing to ask and determined, although you can’t be pushy. But I won’t abandon an idea just because the research aspect is challenging.
Conversely, you have to be conscious of the old saying “write what you know.” True, to a point. I can write a book where the main character happens to be a symphony violinist—but I can’t write a story that about a character’s experiences as a symphony violinist. What’s the difference? I can use something like “symphony violinist” as a backdrop and write with enough authenticity to sell it. But without shadowing a symphony violinist for a year or so, I’d have no hope of telling a story where her virtuoso career is central to the story.
Have you ever had to do major rewrites? What was your approach?
Ha! Um, yes. So far, my major revisions tend to come via my literary agent, who happens to be a fantastic editor. When I gave her the original draft of Ghost Gifts, she gave it back to me about six weeks later. It included a paragraph about how much she loved the idea, the way I’d written Aubrey’s gift, and how excited she was about the novel on the whole. After that came seven pages of “Here: Go do this… this… and this…” That was another six months of work. At first, whether it’s your agent or an editor, disassembling something you’ve spent months writing will make you cry. But if you trust the advice you’re given, then you really don’t have a choice, not if you want to write the best book possible.
How do you handle spicy sex scenes and relatives? Are your family and friends supportive or do they choose not to read your books because of its sensual nature?
I do write some racier scenes—more so in L. J. Wilson books. Although Beautiful Disaster, my first novel, doesn’t shy away from them. How do I handle them? First, I never think about a scene like that in those terms. Love scenes have to grow organically out of the story. In Ghost Gifts, we really only have one explicit love scene—it’s a slow burn and the characters “earn it.” I’ve seen a couple of reviews where readers took exception to this. I can’t help that. I wouldn’t change a word. You’re always free to skim or skip that scene. I think my love scenes add to the overall story or they wouldn’t be there. On the other hand, if you enjoy a well-written love scene, then any of my books would probably be for you.
I look forward to reading them. What do you keep in mind as you write? An overarching question? A theme? The last line of the book?
The theme, in my opinion, should never be too far from the surface of what you’re writing. That said, it’s the thing I probably struggle with the most. It’s easy to lose that pinpoint focus while in the throes of a narrative. It’s kind of the difference between looking at a map of the world versus Paris. If you’re taking a trip around the world, but your destination is Paris, you might not want to lose sight of that—or you could end up in Beijing. It’s good to stop every once in a while and ask the basic question: What’s this story about? Am I heading in that direction? Sometimes it requires a course correction.
Is there an aspect of writing that you favor over others, e.g. dialogue, exposition, description of a scene, setting, or character, etc.? Is there one that is more difficult for you?
Dialogue is by far my favorite element, but without exposition there wouldn’t be much to talk about, would there? On the whole I like the latter parts of the writing process. I mean, I doubt many writers love the initial draft—that’s painstaking at best, riddled with wrong turns, and usually pretty awful—at least mine are! The hardest part is just nailing down the basic story, forcing yourself through the rough draft. Then it starts to get fun. Each revision becomes its own reward because (with any luck) the next draft is better than one before it. I’ve yet to finish a book, get to the end, and not be bit stunned as to how it got there on the pages.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you?
You mean aside from bleeding Red & Black? I’m a diehard Georgia Bulldog, as well as a huge New England Patriots fan. My loyalties run North and South! I’m a football escapist. When it comes to writing, I suspect I don’t want anything different from every author, which is to be read. I think I’ve written some appealing books; I’ve certainly evolved with each effort. I admit to a common thread of romance in all my books, though degrees and circumstances vary. Ghost Gifts is very different from Beautiful Disaster, but Beautiful Disaster quite a change of pace from Unstrung, my next novel. All of them are different from the Clairmont Series Novels, which I write under the penname L. J. Wilson—Book Two, The Mission is out May 17th. Strong relationship elements always drive the story. In some instances, like Ghost Gifts, it’s more subtle, and then there’s Unstrung, almost a black comedy—yet in either book I hope I leave readers rooting for the main characters.