Most writers agree that no one, other than the NY Times bestsellers, makes money writing books. One measure of wealth is the acquisition of assets. If like me, you’ve experienced the agony of downsizing, you may appreciate how getting rid of stuff may be more difficult than accumulating it. Seven years ago, we sold the ten-room house we had owned for thirty-three years. It had a cellar, a garage, and a shed. All filled with stuff.
The plan was for us to frolic half the time in St. John in a darling cottage in Coral Bay overlooking Hurricane Hole. The remainder of the time we would spend on outer Cape Cod in a vintage trailer, affectionately known as the tindominium. Two back-to-back category five-plus hurricanes levered our plans in St. John, then the pandemic knocked Plan B off the map. So, we live small, have gotten used to it, and our refuge has become the huge natural world of beaches and trails outside our tiny tindo.
But sometimes I miss stuff. I see an ad for an antique desk on Facebook and I want it. Or the emerald green velvet fainting couch at a local antique shop. Sometimes I miss having a big house with tall ceilings and windows I could decorate. I don’t want to buy a bigger house or any of the stuff I admire, but still, there is a longing. A longing that is fulfilled by my life as a writer.
I’ve learned asset acquisition doesn’t require a bill of sale or a deed. My imagination appropriates whichever asset I am currently enchanted by, sometimes slightly obsessed with, and gives it to one of my characters in my work-in-progress.
That villa in No Virgin Island where Sabrina Salter first saw the body of a dead man slung back onto a hammock next to an octagonal pool? It was my favorite place to escape to on St. John for vacations for decades and the one house in the world I would buy if it were still standing.
I am drawn to an antique Greek revival home on the back roads near me. The sun casts shadows on it at the end of the day that entice me to break in and see what it looks like inside. Rather than becoming a criminal, I gave the house to Rick, a hardened homicide cop, whose life inside his gentile home showcases his softer side. I googled the house and found photos from the last sale. Then I redecorated it for Rick.
Olivia Rose was born to have a conservatory, so I gave her one in a beautiful Tudor home located on Moss Hill in Jamaica Plain, Boston. I filled the conservatory with plants and furniture I love, and coincidentally so does Olivia. (You’ll have an opportunity soon to visit Olivia’s conservatory but that’s also a blog for another day.)
When I first saw the snazzy Jeep Rubicons people drive in to Cape Cod from urban areas (a blog for another day), I knew Nora O’Brien, the newbie lawyer, daughter of Danny O’Brien of Oh Danny Girl had to have one and she did.
I decorate houses in my books, dress characters in clothes I never could or would wear, have as much pleasure as if I had personally acquired them. I never have buyer’s remorse and don’t spend a penny. I never have to agonize about whether they spark joy or not. I have wealth only a writer can gain. The only price I pay is exercising my imagination.
How do you use your imagination to bring joy into your writing?
What fun! I built my dream lifestyle in San Francisco for my new protagonist, Maureen Gould, who will appear in Implied Consent in January. She lives in a loft converted from an old warehouse in the South Park neighborhood of San Francisco, replete with concrete floors, granite counters, and overhead conduit that may just be the urban-chique version of ceiling moulding. She drives a bright yellow BMW M-5. Her office is in an 19th century brick building on Jackson Square with a view of Coit Tower.
Maureen is living the dream, literally! I can’t wait to read about her life in San Francisco. Love the cover!
Thanks so much! I love the cover too.
I think you hit on the reason for writing all together! We get to have things in our imagination we don’t have in real life. Maybe richer, or younger, or another gender. I set my short stories all over the place because I get to use Google Earth and walk around streets and neighborhoods I’ve never visited.
One thing I never did was write someone in detail who has a great deal of money. I feel I’d make so many gaffes when it comes to the right brand of clothes or the right food or the right words even. Clearly, I need to get out more.
Emilya, try writing the rich girl thing. You might like it!
Michele, I love how you use your imagination to fulfill those desires, and I totally understand that and love your choices. That Tudor is amazing!
I had Nora Tierney buy Haven Cottage, based on a photo and story in an English magazine I get, that totally captures my attention, right down to its thatched roof. Then I set it in the backyard of the Old Parsonage, my favorite place to have high tea in Oxford. One of the neat things about these kinds of assignments is that those places seem so REAL to us in our minds, right?
Marni, being transplanted to a place like the Old Parsonage is pure magic. The imagination is the best travel ticket ever! (And the least expensive.)
Michele, I also live the fantasy life in my books. Corelli inherited an eight story building that takes up a square block in the Meat Packing District in Manhattan. She lives in two story loft apartment on the top floors with a roof garden. And her apartment has a huge industrial vat for a bathtub. Nice to soak and drink a glass of wine while staring at the Hudson River or the lights of New Jersey.
A couple of my romances have millionaire protagonists. The self-made one takes her company private and she and her partner buy an island resort and block out the month February for their family and friends. Oh, yeah.
And the two protagonists in the romance I’m working on are on a month-long super luxury tour of Italy. Talk about living through your writing. I’m dying to to back to Italy to visit the places they visit, eat the foods they eat and do the things they do.
I had Maggie Dove driving a bright red Audi TT because I love the shape of that car (circa 2000. They changed the shape of it.) Then I realized I could afford it, so I bought one. Not sure if that’s the right answer to your question, but I do enjoy the car.
Susan, I think that’s a perfect response. It’s like you took a test drive with Maggie.
I love this column (and your books and characters!)
Thanks so much, Brenda. I can’t wait to see you at Crime Bake!
great article and I can envision it all.
Thanks, Dru. This is what makes writing fun!
I love this! I like to indulge my characters in cool cars. I gave my Cozy Capers protag a red Miata with a retractable roof. Very, very sporty. My new protag Cece Barton, drives a blue ’66 Mustang convertible, because she lives in northern California. So fun.
Edith, I get it. No Prius for your girls! Nora’s not getting a Forester like mine. This is why writing fiction is so much fun.
Oh, I do the same thing! I’ve always wanted to live part time in the UK. That isn’t going to happen. So I gave Kate Hamilton my dream. And I can always visit!
Exactly, Connie. I feel the same when I’m writing about Ireland or St. John.