Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Is Writing a Solitary Occupation? A Guest Blog from Anjali Banerjee

Anjali Banerjee
“Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.” This quote has been attributed to at least two authors: Jessamyn West and Lawrence Clark Powell, for starters.

Regardless of who said it, is it true?

Yes, to a degree. I covet my writing time. If my husband even walks into the room, disturbing the air when I’m immersed in a scene, I might become, well, “slightly savage.” To complete a novel, I need to spend many hours alone – or at least, uninterrupted by noise, demands, distractions, conversation. Usually, my home office works well, but to finish my new novel, HAUNTING JASMINE, on deadline, I shut myself into a friend’s office several blocks away—without a view, the Internet, or a telephone for a few hours every day for several days. Much as I love my cats, they don’t know what “please leave me alone” means, and neither do they understand a closed room. They meow, scratch, and hurl themselves at my office door. So when I’m on a tight deadline, sometimes I have to leave the house.

If I don’t go to my friend’s office, I hide in a café. For some reason, the background hum in a coffee shop generally doesn’t bother me (unless a particularly annoying conversation or grating noise disrupts my concentration)—maybe because I’m not expected to respond to anyone. Nobody wants anything from me; I’m anonymous, free, and the phone is not for me (usually).

I’m alone in the crowd, facing the blank page, typing away, talking to nobody except the characters in my head. Granted, these characters might offer good company, as Anne Tyler once said, but still…

So I must conclude that the “solitary occupation” part is true… to a point.

But it’s also untrue.

I believe it actually “takes a village” to write a book. If I think back through the process of writing HAUNTING JASMINE, many brilliant, generous people were involved in the evolution of the book. I began with a simple idea. What if the ghosts of dead authors were to haunt a bookstore? Then I had to create a main character, a woman named Jasmine who needs help from these spirits. But who is Jasmine?

Enter my critiquers—a group of wildly wonderful, successful women authors. They helped me brainstorm Jasmine’s character, and I decided that she would be a divorcee whose husband had been unfaithful.

Then I consulted the renowned L.A. screenwriting coach, Michael Hauge, who happened to be visiting Bainbridge Island, WA two summers ago. He suggested that Jasmine should be a harried businesswoman who hasn’t read a book in a long time. In fact, she resists the idea of running a stuffy, dusty old bookstore on a remote island. She’s accustomed to a fast-paced life in Los Angeles. She reads Money and Forbes magazines, not novels. She can’t wait to rush back to L.A., where she’s poised to make a lucrative business deal—or possibly lose her job.

She reluctantly returns home to a rainy, remote Pacific Northwest island to help her Aunt Ruma, who owns Auntie’s Bookstore and must return to India for a month to “fix her health.” At first, Jasmine believes she’s alone in the drafty, creaky old Victorian mansion, but her aunt Ruma conveniently failed to mention that the bookstore is haunted by the ghosts of dead authors, who appear to Jasmine in various ways to help her slow down, reinvent herself, and fall in love again.

I wrote a proposal for the novel, using critiques from my writing group and brainstorming ideas from the Friday Teasters, a group of women who meet for tea on Friday afternoons.

Enter my literary agent, Kevan Lyon. She and her colleague, Jill Marsal, read the proposal and suggested changes. Then they shopped it around, and we made a deal with Berkley/Penguin. Enter the good people in the Contracts Department, who worked with my agent to negotiate the contract.

Enter my brilliant editor, Wendy McCurdy, who gave me brilliant feedback and editorial guidance, and when the final draft went into production, many other talented people contributed their skills and expertise. My editor’s associates, Copywriters, the Copy Editor, the Art Director, the cover artist, the Production Department, Sales and Marketing, my hardworking Publicist, Erin Galloway, bookstore representatives, librarians, booksellers, and readers – each person played a key role in bringing the book to fruition.

Just as Jasmine believed she was alone in her aunt’s old mansion, with only sad memories for company, I believed I was alone at first, too… the writer typing away with only imaginary friends for company. But I soon realized that this was far from the truth. I had many wonderful people all around me – bringing the story to life.

Haunting Jasmine
About the Book: Divorcée Jasmine Mistry is intent on restarting her life when she gets the chance to do just that. A call from the past brings her home to Shelter Island, a green dot in the middle of Puget Sound, to run her beloved aunt's bookstore. The familiarity is heartening – the rocky beaches, pewter skies, country boutiques, and above all, Auntie’s Bookstore, nestled in a quaint Queen Anne Victorian, and believed, not incidentally, to be haunted.

With that knowledge, Jasmine embarks on a mystical journey, urged along by her quirky family, guided by the highly emotional spirits of long-dead authors, and moved to heal her broken heart when she falls unexpectedly in love with an enigmatic young stranger. He knows about blurring the lines between truth and fantasy. In redefining the meaning of everlasting love, he urges Jasmine to reinvent herself in a place she calls home. All she has to do is close her eyes and say yes.

The publisher has generously offered to give away on copy of this charming book to a reader of this blog! To enter, simply fill out the form below by 11:59 PM PST February 10th. Only readers with a United States or Canadian mailing address are eligible. Winner will be notified by email.

Watch for my review later today!

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