A Serendipity Story

Can you see April Henry's name?

I like the idea of synchronicity. As in when you work toward a goal, and life treats you to a serendipitous surprise as a reward. Kind of like creating your own luck. This is the way I’ve experienced serendipity anyhow. Not that I’ve been on that roll for awhile…sadly…BUT, at novelist April Henry’s reading earlier this week, I bouyed myself up with her grandly serendipitous publishing adventure. It can happen!

Sidenote: April Henry taught a thriller-writing class last fall. I was one of her students, eager to learn more about plotting. She’s an excellent teacher and knows her stuff for sure. 

Back in the day, April worked hard at her fiction (and still does, obviously). In fact, she mentioned five unpublished novels in different genres, including historical and chick-lit. Then, she hit her stride with Circles of Confusion, which sold in three days.

So, now April was a mystery writer with a series. She also wrote YA novels. As I understand it, there came a point when the adult novels weren’t doing as well, and the series petered out. She kept writing around her 9-to-5 job and plugging away. Here’s where I see serendipity: Because she’d been out there and working hard, she knew people, people knew of her, and the way I see it, up pops an opportunity that she’d never have imagined possible: “helping” (my quotes, not April’s) Lis Wiehl, legal analyst and television personality, write thrillers.

Another sidenote: It’s the James Patterson thing. The brand name with the true author mentioned in little print. Once again, my words, not April’s. (I repeat, my words, not April’s.)

You might be thinking…Well, that sounds oookay, but not like an optimal publishing experience for a talented novelist. But, here’s the thing. The first book in their series landed on the New York Times bestseller list, and they’ve signed a second multi-book deal. Meanwhile, April has continued her YA publishing track, and because of her new success with Lis Wiehl, her YA publisher is promoting the heck out of her upcoming YA novel.

On the purely practical side: April got a quit her day-job. She now writes fiction (lucratively) full-time! Isn’t that what we all want?

I felt happy for April as I walked out of the bookstore. To me, that’s a great story.

A Man’s Ruin and My Two Bartenders

Over the weekend, writing in yet another cafe, a slice of my life slid into a slice of my novel-in-progress and led to a gleeful moment.

I have a character (the dog owner I mentioned in a previous post) who’s a bartender. His name is Alan. I also have a bartender in my real life: Ben. He’s not truly “my” bartender, but he’s the closest I have to a regular purveyor of alcoholic beverages.

Over the weekend, I began writing a scene featuring Alan. As soon as I started, I realized that I was calling on my observations of Ben the Bartender, especially regarding an interesting comment he’d made about hearing what he wanted to hear from behind the bar. In other words, he’s privy to many a private conversation as he’s going about his business. As customers, we assume that bartenders aren’t paying attention, don’t we?

This tidbit was the perfect perspective from which to have Alan overhear snippets of a conversation that he misinterprets until later events clarify their true significance. I didn’t know I was going to do this until a paragraph into the scene. And I wouldn’t have thought of this if not for Ben’s comment, which was good insight into the world of the bartender, little did I know it at the time.

That was cool, but the best connection occured a page later when I realized I needed Ben’s tattoo. It was the perfect device by which to hint at Alan’s backstory, which is troubled indeed. I’d been wondering how to further that aspect of his story arc.

Ben’s tattoo is called “a man’s ruin.” This tattoo is a beauty that encircles his forearm with images of men’s temptations: women, drugs, booze, gambling, and so on. Poor Ben, with me watching him in an unseemly manner. He’s a good-looking guy, but there was also something else at work — connections being made that only became apparent over the weekend.

Serendipity plays its part in my creative process. I don’t know how many times I’ve read, heard, or met someone that set my synapses firing. These connections between my real world and my imaginary world are found treasures — I get excited; I might even clap my hands in glee — that feel like magic.