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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GetToKnowTheBook: Heartsong by Allison Knight

By Allison Knight

Heartsong, probably one of my favorite novels, had the strangest beginnings of all my books. Usually when an idea pops into my head, it's the beginning, the hook, so I have a place to start. Then I try and figure out what's going to happen to my poor characters and what has gone before to make them the way they are. I often see the scenes in my head as I try to go to sleep or early in the morning. In fact a couple of those scenes have been so vivid I had to get out of bed and rush to the computer. I seldom have the end of the book in mind when I begin. But, I begin with the hook, and the story develops from there.

Not so with Heartsong!

I was on my way to teach an evening class on writing at a community college. It was fall, the weather was crisp, the leaves starting to turn and I had a forty-five minutes drive ahead of me. I tuned the car radio to my favorite classical station and let my thoughts drift to the plans for the evening's class. Something, I'll probably never know what, made me register the chorus coming through my speakers. It was the end of the opera Faust, and the melody was a haunting thing.

Suddenly, I got a mental image of a woman in medieval grab standing before a knight. She was crying and wanted her baby back. I was so stunned, I pulled into a service plaza and sat there for several minutes waiting for the picture to fade.

I don't remember what my plans were for that night, but I knew I had to pursue that scene and figure out what was wrong with that woman. I stood in front of the chalk board and talked about plot. I spent the entire class explaining plot, giving examples of methods of plotting and how I usually plotted a book. As I lectured, ideas came almost as if I was outlining the book and to illustrate my points, I put some of those ideas on the board. During our coffee break I transcribed my notes and knew I had a novel.

For the first time in writing a book, I had to start at the end because what I saw while listening to the radio was the black moment of the story, the point toward which the whole book was leading. As I put plot points on the board, the story fell into place. By the time I got home, I had my book. Of course there were still many details that needed to be flushed out but when I crawled into bed that night, I even had the name of the book. 'Heartsong' had been born. The name has never changed.

Of course, I had an awful lot of research to do because although I'd read medieval stories before, most of my books were set in the United States, in the 17th and 18th centuries. The name of the baron's estate came in the same way the last scene arrived, early the next morning.

I had a good friend who had been born in Wales and she helped me with the names of my Welsh heroine and her brothers. The more I worked on the story, the better I liked it. When I finally wrote the scene I'd seen so vividly on the way to class, I knew why she was crying and why the hero just stood there. When I gave the book to my husband who is my first editor, he read the book. He looked at me and exclaimed, "The story is fantastic," and pronounced it his favorite of all the books I'd written. It's still his favorite even though there have been quite a few since I finished it. In fact I liked the characters of Heartsong so well, I've written a sequel and have another story planned with the same characters from the original story.

My husband must have been on to something for that book won Best Novel of the Year from my publisher. If you saw the books in competition with mine, you would understand why I'm so pleased with the award. Needless to say, so is my husband.

What's amazing is other authors since then have told me similar stories. A book's idea may not start at the beginning of the story, but someplace in the middle or even at the end. A nationally recognized author of best selling mysteries told me he always starts at the end. If he doesn't know who did it, he can't put the right clues into the beginning of the book. So when an idea occurs, be it the end of a book, or someplace in the middle, you may have the next best seller. Don't discount a possible story because you envision the final chapter instead of the start. I learned that lesson with my award winner!

Copyrighted 2009 - Allison Knight

Print copies of Heartsong by Allison Knight can be purchased directly from Champagne Books, Inc., or they can be ordered from your local book stores.

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