Percolating on the Next Book

Now that I’ve finished WINDY CITY BLUES and am awaiting my copyedits, it’s time to turn my attention to the NEXT BOOK. I’m in the fortunate position to be in the middle of two-book deal, but what that second book will be, no one knows. Not even me. I’m finding it difficult to say goodbye to the blues and the Chess brothers . I fell in love with the music, the musicians and the legacy they left behind.

Finishing up this novel has been a different experience for me. Usually when I reach this stage, I’m sick to death of the manuscript I’ve been working on for the year or 18 months and am ready to move on. And usually by this point I already know what I’m going to work on next. Not so this time and I think it’s because the story of the blues and the Civil Rights Movement and the people I met while working on this book truly found their way into my heart. I feel as though I’m going through a bit of a mourning period and am allowing myself this time to grieve.

And yet I know the only cure for one book is to get busy writing another. Deciding what to write next is exciting, exhilarating and riddled with anxiety. For now I’m pondering… Do I want to write about real historical figures? Or would I rather create a character from scratch?  What time period would I like to delve into for the next year to 18 months?  What about the setting? Should I do another novel set in Chicago or is it time to spread my literary wings and go elsewhere? All this weighs on me and keeps me up at night.

I tend to keep a running list of topics I think might be able to grow into books one day and while they all seem viable in the moment, when I go back and give them a serious look, they tend to fall apart and crumble to nothingness. True confession, last week, Wednesday to be specific, I had a mini panic attack. I was staring at my grandfather’s typewriter–the one I played on as a child when I dreamed of becoming a novelist one day–and all I could think was I’m completely out of ideas.

Now mind you, I’ve been here before, it’s part of the process and you’d think I’d know that by now, but still it rattled me. And that old saw, it’s darkest before the dawn has never been more true. I remember being on the phone with my sister, the two of us tossing around possible subjects and nothing was getting me excited. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and had to get off the phone. Just when I was about to tear my hair out, a burst of inspiration rescued me. In fact, more than one burst of inspiration.

This is the part of the writing process that is filled with endless possibilities. Nothing has been committed to paper yet and as my friend Tasha Alexander  likes to say, I need to let the story and characters percolate. But I am percolating and it feels great. As soon as I know I’ve got something really cooking here, I’ll share it with you!


My grandfather’s typewriter