In my work as a writing coach, I deal with many extreme feelings from writers, and I can empathize with them all. Although we are all aware that digging ditches or washing dishes for a living is much harder than being a writer, still, we have many moments when we are strung out with insecurity and twisting in pain over the judgment we feel from the folks who read us, or the isolation we feel when no one reads us at all!

I asked my client, Robin Gaines, a few questions about her process. Robin is a short story writer and former journalist; she just finished her first book, "Invincible Summers", signed with an agent, and is at work on her second. I recently interviewed her for an article in the July issue of The Writer magazine and we decided to keep the conversation flowing!

I asked Robin what she thinks is the hardest thing about a writer's life? “The patience needed to get the work to sing,” she said. “And what is the most rewarding? When you laugh out loud or cry after reading your own work and forgetting for a moment that you are the author and not just reading it like a first time reader.”

As for a writing routine, Robin said, “I'm always writing. I'm always thinking of my characters and what they would do in certain situations. I think of my fictional family while I'm driving my real family around, making dinner, doing laundry, etc. When the cream of those snippets of dialogue and scenes rises above all the others I grab the small notebook I keep in my purse and write it all out. Then the next day when I'm sitting in front of my laptop I type out those ideas that I jotted down in my notebook and hope they become part of the larger story. I spend a lot of time writing out character pages before I start a story or novel. If I don't have the characters down pat, I can't get write their story.”

Often place becomes its own character in a piece of writing; Robin is based in the Detroit area and "Invincible Summers" takes place on and around her home turf. The wedding that I participated in last week (see blog archive!) took place in Midland, Michigan. Michigan seems like a dream to me now (props to Simon & Garfunkel Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits [Platinum Edition]  , but let’s give a shout out to the writers it claims:

Theodore RoethkeOn Poetry and Craft  , Marge PiercyWoman on the Edge of Time  , Elmore LeonardRoad Dogs,  Ernest HemingwayA Moveable Feast  .

This week’s exercise for key-bangers: Blend the dialogue of real life with a vividly imagined place – that you’ve never been. Now reverse the exercise and focus on a place you know well, where you are or were deeply rooted, and create dialogue that you’d be surprised to hear in such a place.

And let me know your thoughts on this question of the week, writers:  How much has your place of birth affected your writing?

And please drop by the salon at and check out my  writer’s workshop in a bookBang the Keys  !


Also for those of you in need of instructions on how to sign up for this online book club -- Unabashedly Bookish and post comments to these blogs, here ya go:


Posting comments on the blog is simply a matter of signing into the Book Clubs and then clicking on the “Post A Comment” link that appears on the bottom of each blog entry.

In order to sign into the Book Clubs you have to have a account.  You can create that by using the Sign In link at the top of any page on  Once you have a account and are signed into that,  you’ll need to click the Sign In link on the Book Clubs  (it’s below the image of a bookshelf). Again, this club is called Unabashedly Bookish. Any problem - try Help Tab.


Message Edited by PaulH on 06-22-2009 01:17 PM
by RHCombs on ‎06-11-2009 12:51 PM
As usual, Dearman manages to acknowledge the difficulties inherent in being a dedicated writer without making them sound overwhelming.  I always enjoy her unique combination of humor, insight, and pragmatic advice.
by oiloncanvas on ‎06-11-2009 01:30 PM
Dearman is so fantastic in intuiting exactly what I feel as a writer--the highs and lows of my emotional state have indeed been some of the most challenging aspects of pursuing a writer's life (in some cases, harder than the actual writing itself).  When I sit alone before my computer I always feel like I'm the only one struggling with the mental journey of long-term isolation and find it hard to believe that anyone else has written in the face of such feelings of 'i think i suck-ness', but each time I tap into Deaman's writings/blogs I almost believe that there are others, successful even, who have feared that their choice to write was bound to the pipe dream of almost anything else worth pursuing.  Thanks Jill Dearman for your soothing reminders; they truly help me remain sanely dedicated to my writing!
by on ‎06-11-2009 02:01 PM

Jill, I'm laughing right now, only because after I first read your excerse, I thought:  I can't do this.  How do I create something from my imagination, painting a picture of a place I've never been, and turn it into an actual place with people? 


Then I thought, heck!  I've already done it, here on B&NBC, in the Com. Rm.!  I created a whole kingdom, a realm of fantasy, as people come on this board thread, as players in these scenarios.  There was a purpose for this creation, but at the time it wasn't fully realized by me.  It was just intended to be a place for people to play with their own imaginations, and have fun doing it.


Stories within stories kept popping into my head, and sometimes we've put these 'character actors' [each of us] into them.  I'm not alone in this creative venture.


This was easy for me, if I saw a plot..... but then my imagination started putting my own imagined people to work into the scenarios, as well;  creating a place in the story 'away' from actual reality, and that was even easier.  Imagined place, and imagined characters....I visualized it all before and during these interactions.  I could manipulate them on a whim, around in the story they'd fly, to fit into, and for, my own desires.  The plot thickens.


Anyway, it works for me, to a point.  Off the board stories are usually created with a base of knowledge about places and people I've come in contact with over the years.  It is funny, though, the dialogue does change according to the place they find themselves in, then changing the actual character's personalities and dialogue from my original thought, as they deal with each situation, and other characters.  hm...they end up manipulating me and my thoughts!  Yikes!  Just kidding, of course...I'm still the boss!  I think.



by Blogger Jill_Dearman on ‎06-11-2009 02:20 PM
Are characters the bosses of writers? this may be a future post! thx, Kathy, and RHC and OOC too...
by BurtShulman on ‎06-12-2009 12:32 AM

Jill Dearman is one of those remarkably wise humans who's both a wild-eyed dreamer and a no B.S. pragmatist.  And since William James and John Dewey were also proud to call themselves pragmatists, that's no mean accomplishment.  The exercises work to open up my sometimes worried imagination, and writing becomes fun again, despite all the stuff my fellow-commenters have said (today's personal favorite:  writing in the face of "I think I suck-ness".  Oh boy do I know that one.)


As for Jill's question about whether my birthplace has affected my writing, it's been inescapable for me.  I love the country, yet almost everything I've ever written takes place in the city -- and not just any city, but New York City, and not just any part of New York City but Queens and Brooklyn (born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, now living again in Brooklyn).  I love evoking place, but indirectly -- my guide is something Chekov wrote in a letter, where he said that he tried to paint his scenes using indirect images; I think his example was that if a story was set at night, rather than use the word "night" he'd load up an atmospheric phrase like "moonlight glinted off a broken bottle" and just sort of drop it in.  I completely agree with Jill's comment that place often becomes another character.  I think that's true of most of the fiction I love most, from Melville, Twain, Dickens, early Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Katharine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Frank O'Connor, James Joyce, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Alice Munro, Stuart Dybek, John Cheever, Deborah Eisenberg, Denis Johnson, Charles Baxter, Richard Bausch, Raymond Carver, Alistair MacLeod, Andrea Barrett, Harper Lee, Robert Boswell, Isaac Babel, William Maxwell, J.D. Salinger, Garcia Marquez, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky.  Even Beckett, for all his claustrophobia, is intensely focused on his evocation of place -- however barren and other-worldly, he's amazingly precise about his settings.  And think of the Big Guy, Shakespeare, and how vividly he paints a picture of Elsinore, and Macbeth's haunted castle, Lear's moor and Prospero's island.  Of all the work I love most, I think probably Borges depends the least on place -- though in his case, lots of times it's his narrators' minds that are his settings, and he evokes them so well.  Sorry about the list of names -- I love talking about the writers whose work I love.


Anyway, Jill, you're a treasure.  Thanks again.

by SDFicklin on ‎06-12-2009 10:18 AM

Oh, I know my characters boss me around plenty! There is something to be said for allowing a character to dictate it's own fate.


As for birthplace effecting writing, I'm a military brat, so I grew up every where, and it reflects in my writing. As a kid I always whinned about all the moving and new people, but it's given me the ability to write about different regions and cultures and write them well.

by Blogger Jill_Dearman on ‎06-12-2009 01:15 PM

Ah, but is there any one region or culture that you most connect with, that seeps into your writing, SD?


by EKSwitaj on ‎06-12-2009 02:06 PM
My place of birth, Seattle, has had a major impact on my writing: the vivid green, evergreen, landscape is still the default landscape in my mind, even though I've traveled a lot. I still think of the sky as something usually hazy gray with occasional breaks of brilliant blue, but the main influence has been on my vocabulary. There are so many words we use in this region, like salal (a common plant), that came into English through Chinook Jargon.
by Shotmonster on ‎06-13-2009 07:17 PM
I grew up in a crummy, industrial town on the Naugatuck river in central Connecticut. I like setting stories there, I know the lay of the land, can see it all in my mind, and can easily navigate characters through. I travel a lot for work, another advantage, and I always try to record locations in my mind so I can call them up for future use.
by Blogger Jill_Dearman on ‎06-14-2009 03:21 PM
As a "New York provincial" native new yorker who has never lived outside the city, I can't tell you how refreshing it is to hear from writers from other places on how their home towns and cities affect their writing. Do folks still remember the way people in your home towns talked, when you were kids?
by on ‎06-14-2009 08:17 PM

The way they talked?  Ah, they talked like I did. :smileyhappy:  However that was/is.  I was born and raised in So. Calif., but while living here, I've moved around, living in a variety of different cities and towns.  Although, the more rural I'd get, the differences in word usage became slightly different...from city to faming communites.


One of my grandmothers was French Canadian from Mass....hard, clipped, French accent.  She lived with us for a while.  My other grandmother, who lived close by,  was from the Boston area...a very distinct Mass accent.  Although, I've heard there are about 60 something dialects in the area of Boston, alone.


My one grandfather was from Scotland...very, very hard Scotch/broken English accent.  The other grandfather I met only once, he lived in Mass., northern section, spoke mostly French, very little English. 


California is said to have an absence of an accent, but I could hear the differences between city, and farming communities.  One of my friend's dad asked me, when I was a kid, where I was from...I said, here, Calif., He laughed, and he said, no, I mean, where were you born...  I said Long Beach Calif.  He seemed to think, by the way I spoke, I was from someplace other than here in Calif.  I'd never thought about it before...until he made that comment. Maybe Californians are a hodgepodge of nationalities, and accents, to the point of forming our own...I don't know.  I lived in Utah for about 4 years, as an adult,  and listened to the variety of voices.  Not just different accents, but word usages are different. 


Of course, every generation has their slang, their colloquailisms.  I gew up with all of them... Real cool! Ha!


I'm torn right now...after thinking about this subject, all sides of it....if it really is easier to write about what you're familiar with.  I'm familiar with a lot of different terrains and landscapes, and voices.  Or do we mash them all up together, throwing  them into the air to see what lands in your mind?  What's easier on the brain cells?:  Is it hard edge realism of specific terrain and language, or mashed up soft edges fantasy worlds?!



by on ‎06-15-2009 09:21 PM



You talk about a place becoming characters in writing... This was more than a topic of discussion for me, with Anita Diamant, on her book, Last Days of Dogtown!  Every character echoed that town, or was it the other way around?   They were one. 


Digging for every aspect of goodness from each of these characters, it was a hard struggle, but worth taking on!  The characters were pitted against so many adversities, I found myself howling a lament, along with the dogs!  It was funny, because when I finished reading that book, I wanted to write a to place every one of her characters in.  She said she'd thought about writing screen plays, but at that time was "too close" to the book to think about it.


I wondered about that, and told her the feeling I got from each of those characters, and how the music would, or could, adapt to them.... It was beautiful, the feeling I had after reading that novel.  I connected to the characters, the landscape, and the author...all at the same time.

by Blogger Jill_Dearman on ‎06-16-2009 12:04 PM
Thanks for the thoughtful analysis and recommendation of LDoD!
by on ‎06-17-2009 01:03 AM

There are very few authors that I can link their characters to terrain.   My first was  Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley. 


Lyrical voice is a tugging choice.  Hearing what surrounds.... feeling the connection to the characters...these are the sounds .  You cannnot deny the feel.  It is my appeal.

by SDFicklin on ‎06-18-2009 02:30 PM
I suppose the place I write about most is Washington state. It's so beautiful and sureal there, it's a perfect setting for my Fantasy stuff. I write southern pretty well too. So much culture in the south!
About Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
Unabashedly Bookish features new articles every day from the Book Clubs staff, guest authors, and friends on hot topics in the world of books, language, writing, and publishing. From trends in the publishing business to updates on genre fiction fan communities, from fun lessons on grammar to reflections on literature in our personal lives, this blog is the best source for your daily dose of all things bookish.


Since 1997, you’ve been coming to to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.