How to Write A Novel In Eighteen Steps


  • Draft 50,000 words in two mad months. Convince self you are literary giant.
  • Lose focus, shelve draft for three years.
  • Discover the entire secondary plot is crap. Scrap it.
  • Rewrite over 18 months. 65,000 words of plausible nonsense.
  • Discover the entire new secondary plot is crap. Scrap it.
  • Rewrite over another year. Convince self you are not bonkers to have done so. 75,000 words.
  • Decide to publish in six months. Actually tell people that.
  • Get solid notes from beta readers. Rewrite. 82,000 words.
  • Panic. How is the book getting LONGER?
  • Gain beta reader approval. Send out for copyediting.
  • Get edits back. Fix eleventy-million things. Send out for proof copy printing.
  • Send uncorrected digital proofs to selected readers.
  • Get proof in mail. Squee like a pre-teen at a pre-Zayne’s-departure One Direction show.
  • Read through proof in horror: So. Many. Wrongs.
  • Apply 463* sticky-note edits to proof.
  • Implement changes to book files.
  • Remember when Chef Louise said you eventually have to stop fucking with it.**
  • Click Publish.

*estimate. see photo for details.
**she said it. to soften the language would destroy the beauty of the moment. “it” was, for the record, cake frosting.

Fall in Love with Thornton: NECI, The School I Didn’t Attend

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons under a CC Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 license.
Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 license.

Dreams are crazy. That’s the point of them, right?

In 2001, I’d been living on my own for a few years, was making okay money, sharing an apartment outside of Boston with a girlfriend, exploring all kinds of silly twenty-something things, and cooking.

Like, cooking. I was falling in love with flavor and texture, with technique and adventure, with ethnic cuisine and rediscovered comfort food.

When I took the job as J’s nanny, I’d envisioned it as a relatively short-term gig. A way to stash some cash for a graduate degree. What I learned in those couple of years was that I didn’t want to do a graduate degree. So then, what?

Culinary school. Personal cheffing? Managing a B&B in Vermont? Maybe even someday running one… My head was full of ideas. Ah, youth. I researched programs and settled on two: the New England Culinary Institute and the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. One program was conveniently located near my apartment and offered night classes. One was in another state, and would be a lot like going back to college, including dorms. One was under $20,000. One was not. In the end, I chose the one that would allow me to work my way through and keep my cat. I stayed in Cambridge, but a part of me always wonders what would have gone differently had I enrolled in NECI and moved back to Vermont.

As fate would have it, just after enrolling in the local program, I met the man I’d marry three years later.

In the end, what culinary school taught me, more than anything, was how to make a killer Italian meringue buttercream frosting. That, and one other truth: I loathe the kitchen politics and preposterous egotism that rules the restaurant world. Working in a professional kitchen exhausted me on every level.

I still love to cook. I still love flavor and texture, technique and adventure, ethnic cuisine and comfort food. I just prefer to feed my family, and occasionally make really awesome cakes.

Nan and the Damselfly were born from those dreams and experiences, and her NECI education is, in part, an homage to the path I didn’t take, the school I didn’t attend.

Check out Open Studio to read Foolish Things, a short story that introduces you to some of the side-characters from Damselfly Inn when they were in high school, and fall in love with Thornton a month before it’s available to the public.

Fall In Love With Thornton: Foolish Things

Welcome to Fall In Love With Thornton, a series of posts about the world of the Thornton Vermont stories and novels. 

I have always been a sucker for a series. The idea that as a reader, having fallen in love with characters and places, I don’t have to say goodbye just yet — that more stories are coming — is intoxicating. As a writer, I find it to be almost more so. I inhabit time and space with these fictional people. The protagonists have friends, family, histories. So many small backstories fan out from a single novel. How can I not write them all?

If I ever answer that question, I’ll let you know.

Those of you who’ve read From The Earth to the Moon have met Joss Fuller’s Great Aunt, his father Walt as an infant, and his older first-cousin-once-removed George Cartwright. (Spoiler, you’ll see George again soon, albeit briefly.) I have other stories spilling off the margins of the Thornton novel manuscripts, tucked away for rainy days.

foolish-things-thornton-vermont-garriepyOne such backstory is that of Anneliese Thompson, a wedding planner and single-mother recently returned to her hometown. Anneliese, a cousin to the Fullers on the other side, has befriended Nan Grady, and her past is starting to catch up with her as she finds her feet again in Thornton.

Bannerwing Books’s Write Club — a subscription-based writer’s group — released Open Studio, a free ezine this past week, highlighting member responses to a writing prompt. My contribution was Foolish Things, the story of Anneliese’s senior prom date, and the catalyst for the events now playing out in the secondary plot lines of Damselfly Inn.

Check out Open Studio to read Foolish Things as well as the other offerings from Write Club’s membership!

Fall In Love With Thornton: The Foote Farm Mansion

Welcome to Fall In Love With Thornton, a series of posts about the world of the Thornton Vermont stories and novels. 

When I was a student at Middlebury College, I drove out west of campus on Route 125 a fair amount. Joyriding, for the most part, but sometimes on an errand to nearby Port Henry, NY.

A few miles from campus in Cornwall, VT, snugged right up against the state road, alone in the middle of a valley, stood an abandoned, nearly falling down Victorian home.

Click here to see what it looked like in 1997 (smack in the middle of my college years). Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Isn’t it marvelous?

I am a sucker for a neglected house, and my imagination saw it fully restored. I pictured myself an innkeeper there (which was why I put myself through culinary school after college, more on that — and how it ties into Damselfly Inn — down the road) in a far-distant future.

Those daydreams fleshed out over the years, and I began to dread the day the property would be snapped up. The house was in rough shape. A developer might just raze the poor old thing. Or worse, someone might beat me to the punch, renovate it, and open my inn!

Then, some six or seven years ago, I was back in Middlebury for a girls’ weekend with my mom, and we drove out that way to satisfy my curiosity.

The house had indeed been sold, and was being renovated, but the renovations had stalled, and the house was  standing empty, gutted-clean, and ready for finish work. Oh, my heart.

Foote Farm Mansion, Cornwall, VT c. 2010, photo credit Cameron Garriepy.

My life had moved on from dreams of Vermont innkeeping, but not my daydreams, and in the years between seeing the house again, and taking this photograph, the early drafts of Damselfly Inn were written.

Now, fill the valley with pastures of Jersey cows, and stands of fir and birch trees. Root an ancient maple over on the other side of the house. Give the house a full third floor and beautiful perennial beds… And fall in love.