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It Takes a Village (to Write a Novel)

It takes a village. It really does. The sitting down and getting the words from the fingers to the computer screen is a fairly solitary operation. But the getting the ideas to the fingers and then the computer screen to a book … a village. A big and wonderful village. Guest column by Priya Parmar, whose debut historical novel, Exit the Actress (Touchstone), came out Feb. 2011, and is available in Target as well as all major bookstores.

It takes a village. It really does. The sitting down and getting the words from the fingers to the computer screen is a fairly solitary operation. But the getting the ideas to the fingers and then the computer screen to a book … a village. A big and wonderful village.

Priya is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Yahong won.)

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Guest column by Priya Parmar, whose debut
historical novel, Exit the Actress (Touchstone),
came out Feb. 2011, and is available in Target
as well as all major bookstores. Priya splits her
time between Hawaii and London, is working
on her second novel, and loves meeting new
people. See her blog here.

So, the ideas. I have come to understand that writers essentially eavesdrop. It is an established truth. I steal bits and pieces and verbs and ribbons and colors and coats and nouns and shoes, and expressions and gestures and quirks and quibbles and moments of being from everywhere. I love the colors in linen catalogs and paint shops. I love strange foibles that seem to present themselves in restaurants, and train carriages, “I must sit next to the window but facing the door.”

It is terrible. My friend has a fight with her boyfriend and tells me what she said that she should not have said and off I go filing fragments away to be shaped and dressed and painted and primped and refitted into a scene of the book. I do not even know I am doing it. 99% of me is sitting there listening and 1% just makes off with the conversation, like a sandwich in a purse. Awful.

And then there is the encouragement. In Hawaii, I stop in to a little coffee place called Java Kai. I do not even drink coffee. Tina and her husband Mark own Java Kai and my friend Tora owns Relish salon next door. Every day they would ask how the writing was going. Tina asks what is going on in the plot. Mark asks how the arc of the story is feeling and Tora asks when she can read it. It helps. It makes you feel part of the world instead of like a mole in hole. I would send my pages to my mother and she would read and comment and make notes and it made me feel like I was not sending the words out into a void but off on a voyage in my computer and there were lots of friends standing on the dock to wish them well.

And then there are the blog friends. I started my blog about 18 months ago (when I was at home with a cracked rib and had just seen Julie and Julia). I had no idea that I would actually make wonderful, wonderful friends. It was the thing no body told me. Real friends, who love books and read with nuanced, practiced, discerning eyes and generous, wise hearts. It was extraordinary.

And then there is the publishing world. An agent is a marvelous thing. She fights your corner like a champion and suddenly as a writer, you are not alone in the boat. My publishing house is Touchstone and they took beautiful, sensitive care of this book. When I phoned up very late in the editing stages, my wonderful editor understood that the color "scarlet" had been repeated and had to change to "poppy."

And two weeks ago, when Exit the Actress came out I felt a great moment of shared joy. We did it. Together. None of it would have been as memorable or happy without that sense of community, of shared endeavor. It made what was wonderful, so much better.

Priya is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Yahong won.)

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If you're writing fiction and want to
make your prose sizzle, check out
The Fire in Fiction by agent Donald Maass.


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