I Lived in Steve Berry’s House!

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

I was recently lamenting my lack of writing inspiration with an author friend and I had an epiphany. While I was blaming the demise of my muse on now being an editor, which makes me agonize over every word and comma, the answer hit me. I’ve stopped daydreaming.

Years ago, when I first started writing novels, I was caught in a loveless marriage, so I started making stuff up. I read romance novels, surely, but I also put myself into romance situations…in my mind. I pictured meeting handsome strangers and being swept away. I would fantasize while washing the dishes, force myself to stay awake in the bed until the wee hours, pretending I was something I could never be. But in my dreams, I could be anything I wanted. 

Then at some point, I realized this obsessive compulsion to avoid real life wasn’t healthy. I thought, “Well, if I sit down and write this story out, maybe it’ll get it out of my system.” So I did. I sat down at a bulky computer (in the mid-90s, computers were not sleek), opened up Word Perfect, and started telling my daydream.

The Process

My editor-in-chief

Putting my visions, thoughts, ideas into concrete words was exhilarating. One day I typed in a full fifty pages. Another day, I was so wrapped up in the story I forgot to hit “save” – well, you know the outcome to that story. Power failure and total loss. I cried for two days then got back on and rewrote it. (I’m still bad about hitting “save.” So much for lessons learned.) I could sit at that computer for 18 hours, kids and husbands be damned, and crank out the word count. The entire book, which ended up at a whopping 160,000 words (that’s close to 600 pages), was pretty bad.

The end of that part of the story is when I finished the book, I felt so empty, and so drained, that I sat down and wrote another book. That one, 20 years later, became Hitchin’ and it’s published. And it’s still my favorite of all my stories. I ended up writing four full books in two years before we moved back to Norfolk, Virginia.

So what’s that got to do with Steve?

Downtown St. Marys – The Riverview Hotel is the white building on the far left

Which brings me to Steve Berry. A couple of years ago I made a trip to St. Marys, Georgia (where we’d been living when I wrote those stories) because one of my books was based there, and I wanted to see how much the area had changed. (The area, a lot… the small, quaint downtown of St. Marys, very little.) I stayed in the Riverview Hotel – it was there in the early 90s when I’d lived there, and I thought it would be fun. (It’s supposed to be haunted, but I didn’t see any ghosts.)

Very unlike this complete introvert, I started talking to people. I wandered into small shops and chatted up the owners, and as is often the case in small towns, gathered a whole lot of town gossip. Not the least of which was the fact the Riverview’s owner had been married to Steve Berry.

Wow. I love his books!

Historic Riverview Hotel, St. Marys, Georgia

When I returned to the hotel (which was just one block away) that evening I joined the local crowd at the outdoor patio for a drink (where the brick columns are in the photo). The owners invited me to sit with them, so I did, meeting more locals and chatting them up. I told Gaila how I’d lived there before, near Crooked River State Park. She told me she’d lived in a house out there, also. As we compared notes, I said, “The house I lived in was on Live Oak Lane,” and she responded, “Our house was on Live Oak Lane.”

Imagine my shock when we determined I had lived in her and Steve Berry’s home that Steve had rented out after their split. I was blown away. Talk about coincidences (you can’t make this stuff up).

That house had been added onto over the years, and had a long hallway leading to four bedrooms, with the master at the end. In the middle of the hall was a niche, wide and deep enough for an upright piano, and we had our computer there. And that’s where I spent all those hours, writing those four books.

In retrospect, I like to think that house had some kind of psychic vibe…some energy left behind by Steve. Or maybe it was the house itself. I can’t even swear Steve did any writing within its walls.

But it’s sure nice to think so.

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Back Among the Living

Totally dropped the ball on my journey with Trudy. After a week in the hospital with the flu, it was tough to get back to writing. But my treatments are finished, and now I’m picking my writing up again.


I’m participating in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s (WFWA) annual “Write-A-Thin”, a month-long writing assignment where you set a goal and stay accountable by checking in with other writers each day to post your progress.

I WILL finish editing my WIP (that’s “Work-in-Progress” for my non-writer friends) this month.

On with the show!

If it’s broke, fix it!

I’m struggling with my NaNo word count. I’m way behind, and see no breakthroughs ahead that will bring me up to speed.

I hate this book.

I love the plot idea and the small bits of events I have planned. But there’s nothing tying them together . . . I need more subplots and segues. I’m just jumping from scene to scene. The characters are flat (the nice guys are just NICE and the bad guys are just SLEAZY). They’re all one dimensional.

I started writing novels in 1994. I never outlined, I didn’t plot . . . I did do some extensive character development, however. But I started writing with one goal: to get A and B together, or A to meet B – there was always an end result in mind. In the process, my characters spoke to me. They went places I never expected. Yes, I edited a lot. I cut hundreds of pages from the final stories. But I could also crank out as many as 50 pages in a day. I was driven.

But my writing has taken a turn. I’ve since taught high school English and become a grammar-nazi. God forbid I should misplace a comma. And in the evolution of all this, I’ve lost my emotion. My heart. My guts. Like the talented violin player who is technically gifted, but her playing has no heart, neither does my writing have any heart.

And that is heart-breaking to me. It makes me want to quit. To give up this dream of writing books I’ve had since first grade.

I complained to my daughter-in-law about this problem last night—how I used to be able to write by the seat of my pants and miracles happened. The one book I tried to plot took me ten years to write. The other four took just a few weeks each.

She said,

“You’ve changed. You’re not the same person you were 18 years ago. So you need to change how you write.”

CARAMBA! Is this a teachable moment? An epiphany?

I need to change how I write.

I understand this is a defining moment for me and my writing. If I can embrace this notion, maybe I’ll get my writing mojo back.

And maybe I can finish NaNo this year.

Why Would You Do This?


Why would anyone subject themselves to the torture of writing 50,000 words in 30 days? That’s approximately 6 – 7 double-spaced pages per day. Every day. For one month.

  1. If you’re not someone who enjoys writing, you wouldn’t.
  2. If you don’t have a story burning inside you that needs to be told, you wouldn’t.
  3. If you’ve never thought, “Gee, I can write better than (insert name of famous author here),” you wouldn’t.
  4. If you’ve never said, “Someday I’m going to write a novel,” you wouldn’t.

But if you’ve ever thought any of these, then you just might decide this is the year to give it a shot.

I’ve done all of those things, however, so why am I doing it? Because I feel like my writing has gone flat. My goal for NaNoWriMo is to let myself go…allow myself to put crap on the page– (because save for a few bursts of brilliance, which there will be, there will be lots of crap)– shut down my inner editor and let loose.

The “powers” of NaNo (that would be the veterans) say I’ll want to quit. Week 2 is the hardest, they claim. Don’t give up–just keep writing. That’s what I hope to do.

This will be fun. I keep telling myself that. If I make it, what a sense of accomplishment I’ll have!

Life is all about challenges. And that’s why I’m doing this.

Stop Writing! Just STOP!

I’m new to this world of blogging, and it’s fun. I’m finding other writers with views similar and dissimilar to my own, and I can always learn something or broaden my outlook by reading them. I focus primarily on blogs about writing and all its extraneous offshoots. But it’s overwhelming to sort through thousands of posts to find the good ones.

This morning I did. A relevant post, well-written, good information, so I started reading, and reading…and reading… Then I noticed the word count – over 1500 words. So I stopped. Now I can’t find that post to look at it again. That’s too bad, because it was interesting.

As writers, nothing is more important to us than our words, but we need to be aware that not all our words are important to everyone else. Sometimes we need to just stop. Right where we are.

A friend asked me to read her 4-page synopsis yesterday – she had to cut it in half. It’s a young adult paranormal, which I don’t read, so maybe that made me more objective, or maybe I’m just ignorant of the genre (which I am), but I brutally slashed it (I hope she’s still speaking to me). I felt like there was a good bit of it, that while important in the story, was not necessarily important in describing the story.

The sad truth is, we live in an I-want-it-now culture, full of text messages, snippets and sidebars. Either we don’t have time, or don’t want to take the time. Something else out there awaits us.

So, in that vein, whatever you write, edit it! Keep it short. To the point. On your blog, if you hit 300 words, cut it or see if you can divide it into two posts. But above all, just STO-

You got that idea from where??

One of the most frequent questions any author will hear is “Where do you get your ideas?” And while the specifics of their answers will vary, the theme for all is the same: Life.

Every conversation you hear, event you see (small or significant), tidbit you read, experience you have… all of these can spark an idea. It depends on your interests, your background, your thoughts and emotions. And like the tiniest sapling, it will flourish and grow until it forms a mighty oak.
(Okay, that was a really bad analogy, but I liked this image I found. Which serves to prove my point about inspiration. I didn’t say all of it had to be good.)

During an adult-ed creative writing class at Jacksonville University, one of my fellow students wrote a descriptive passage about the area that was so beautiful, I thought “I can do that!” and wrote a novel based on a nearby town. I’ve also found story ideas in letters to Dear Abby, snippets of overheard conversations, and even from well-meaning friends who said, “You should write about…” I’ve written novels involving hitchhiking (yes, I did that), house renovation (I’m still doing that), and spouse trading (I didn’t do that, but I probably felt like it once or twice).

Oddly, if you read those books today, you probably couldn’t find any of those inspiring moments in them, because they evolved and changed in the process. But one thing all successful writers will tell you, you have to get the words on paper. We all know the person who “is going to write a book someday”, but it can’t happen unless the words hit the paper.

So if you are an aspiring writer, start listening, reading, paying attention. You never know what might spark that next idea. And for my reader friends, the next time you read a novel and think, “I wonder where that idea came from?”, well… you just never know.

For more thoughts on where writers get ideas, check out these links: Where Do Authors Get Story Ideas? and Where Do Writers Find Their Ideas?  Meanwhile, share your thoughts! Where did your best idea come from?