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February 21, 2009

Charlotte Hughes is Passionate About Writing

TART NOTES: Award winning author Charlotte Hughes began her writing career publishing newspaper and magazine articles before becoming a New York Times best selling author. Charlott makes her home in Beaufort, S. C.  Best known for her FULL series with Janet Evanovich, she has written over 40 books, ranging for the 3 mysteries she wrote for Avon to Mira’s HOT SHOT.  Her newest release, NUTCASE centers on Atlanta psychologist Kate Holly and the humorous antics of her friends, family and patients. In the process she learns that the life of a psychologist is enough to drive anyone nuts





How to Stay Passionate About Your Writing

by Charlotte Hughes

        I don’t know about you, but I haven’t felt passionate about Charlotteredanything since Jiffy peanut butter came out with a low-fat brand.

        Seriously, though, we have to hold tight to the passion that led us to write in the first place. Nobody has ever succeeded in anything they didn’t feel passionate about. Famous actors, athletes, and visionaries like Bill Gates, and, yes, published authors would never have found the motivation to work tirelessly at what they do unless they first felt the desire in their hearts.

        I felt great passion when I set out to write my first book or I would never have found the courage to try. I would never have gone back to school, read dozens of how-to-write books, joined writers’ organizations and critique groups had I not believed. Nor would I have written long into the night while my family slept had I not cared so passionately about the characters in my head.

        But how does an author with a slew of published books to her credit keep that passion alive? It is too easy to become jaded in this industry. The enthusiasm and zeal we once felt is often clouded with deadlines, contracts, advance money, reviews, print-runs, sales figures, editors coming and going, and the list goes on and on. How do we keep that fire burning inside when the business of writing becomes so businesslike?

For me, it all comes down to my characters, people who inhabit my head, who have with a story to tell and who don’t particularly care about the state of the publishing industry. By the time they show up in my life, they are about to, or already have, been faced with life-altering challenges. A husband and wife separate, a child is missing, someone is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit or they’re in mortal danger. It’s my job to listen and record, and before long, they become living, breathing human beings with hopes and dreams and disappointments. They become so real to me that by the time I finished my story, I grieve their departure.

When I coauthored the FULL HOUSE series with Janet Evanovich, I lived with the major characters through six books and more than three years. Day after day, they were with me, as close as my fingertips on the keyboard. Sometimes they made me howl with laughter, other times they’d get themselves into a fix, and I had no idea how to get them out of it. When they were sad I was sad with them. Finishing the last book of that series left me drained and a little bereft. As I cleared my desk, I let go of them and the town in which they lived, and now, several years later, I like to think they all lived happily ever after.

Co-authoring the FULL HOUSE series prepared me to write one of my own, and it wasn’t long before new characters appeared; ready to share their lives with me.

Thus was born my CRAZY series, a story about female psychologist Kate Holly and her crazy family, friends, and patients. I had to smile. I knew Kate and I were going to have a good time getting to know each other. There was one problem. All Kate wanted was a normal life. But normal is boring, and I wanted to stir things up. So in the first book of the series, WHAT LOOKS LIKE CRAZY, (Mar. 2008), I put Kate on the tenth floor of her office building with a wanna-be jumper.

In order to fall in love with your characters you have to know them inside-out. You have to know their history and what motivates them. You have to challenge them. When Kate’s story begins, she has been separated almost six months from her firefighter husband Jay Rush, the love of her life, because she constantly fears losing him to what she calls the Fire Gods. Kate has good reason to be afraid. Her father, also a firefighter, died in the line of duty when she was ten years old. It would have been easy to blame Jay for not changing careers, but how do you convince a man to walk away from a job when he genuinely cares about serving and protecting? A man who is deeply committed to saving lives?

How could I not find delight in the other characters that play important roles in Kate’s life? A kooky mother and aunt, twin sisters who still dress alike despite being in their mid-fifties, who run a junk business and are known as the Junk Sisters? How could I not adore Kate’s best friend and receptionist, Mona, a rich young widow who is determined to catapult Kate to fame so she can have her own TV show like Dr. Phil? And how about Kate’s old flame, psychiatrist Thad Glazer who wants her back in his life, his hot tub, and his bed? The two share patients and consult with each other. The only problem, Thad won’t help Kate out of a jam unless she describes the panties she’s wearing.

And then there is Kate’s zany patients. The only problem, one of them might just be trying to kill her!

        The second book of the series, NUTCASE, arriving in bookstores Feb. 24th, stole my heart as well. Although the books stand alone, the characters are ongoing and just as wacky, and there is always a good mystery and the chance that Kate might not make it out alive.

        Again, passion comes from the heart, and there is little logic involved. It doesn’t care if you make the lists. But if you’re passionate about your characters it will show in your work. Readers will become just as passionate as you are about the people in your stories, and when they do they’ll be in line for your next book and the one after that. How can you not succeed?


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Charlotte, I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell's most recent book, The Outliers. It's all about success and its roots in passion, talent, opportunity and--of all prosaic things--repetition. It sounds as if you have it all! Can't wait for the new book. Thanks for being our guest today!

After a really rough week of teaching and contemplating if this is really what I am supposed to be doing, I wake up to your great message about needing passion for your job. Thanks for your timely (for me) message.

Charlotte - Can't wait to read this series. I enjoyed your "FULL" series. You had pubs prior to writing Janet, didn't you?

How did writing as part of a team differ from writing solo?

Is Janet the only writing partner you've had?

Have you considered team writing with someone else?

Tell us more about your writing process. Do you edit as you go or do a down and dirty first draft?

Thanks for posting my interview and release information on my latest book, NUTCASE! I'm getting ready for book tour, which means I'm going to have to wear pantyhose and low heels - yuck! - it won't be easy since I spend most of my time in socks. Charlotte Hughes

Charlotte, You have no idea how much I needed to read this today. I'm in the midst of trying to figure out how to tell the story I want to tell (a story I thought I'd already told pretty darn well, by the way). But I just need to get to the heart of my character and let the passion guide my writing.

Thanks so so so much.

Welcome to TLC, Charlotte and hope you have a great tour - I hear you about the shoes - even in the winter I prefer barefoot.

If you get anywhere near Pittsburgh, stop in at Mystery Lovers Bookshop!

Welcome, Charlott! Excellent point about passion, so easy to forget in the midst of trying to craft the perfect sentence, etc...

Foot baths, deary.

Sit down often, whenever the group around you is small enough so that they can all see you readily. An author that is relaxed enough to sit down (instead of standing and trying a little extra hard to make eye contact with everyone) is attractive--'I want to be relaxed like her; I bet her book would help!' Spares the feet, too.
I appreciate the nudge to pay attention to passion, but it brings up a long-time thought for me: Do you, Charlotte, or any of the Tarts or backblogging authors, feel that writing competes with things important to you in your life?

Hi, Nancy: "Outliers" sounds like a book I might enjoy. No, I definitely do not have it all. I struggle every day, just like most authors. Some days are easier than others. Charlotte

Amy, glad I could help. I think teachers are awesome! When my college professor, Ellen Mohr, told me my work was good enough to be published, she changed my life! I will never forget her OR my other teachers who encouraged me to follow my dreams.

Hi, Cyndi
Glad you liked the FULL HOUSE series! I had probably published some 35-40 books before I began co-authoring with Janet. I had a lot of freedom writing those books because Janet already liked my style and sense of humor, as did the editor. Janet is the only author with whom I've co-authored. I would probably do it again if the right author came along, but right now I have my hands full with my new CRAZY series. Sometimes I write a chapter or two, then edit, but once I finish the book I do heavy rewrites and edits. I'm OCD! I know 'one-draft-writers' but I am not one of them. :)

Judy, this is just my opinion, but characterization is EVERYTHING. I know my main characters inside-out. I taught myself early on how to get to know them better -- by putting together a question/answer form for each major character. I even want to know what my character's favorite color, food, music, etc., are. After several years of using the questionaire I no longer needed it, but I still insist on knowing those things. Once in a while I'll pick up a book where the main character feels flat, and I immediately lose interest. If I don't care about the character then I won't care about the story.

Thanks for the invitation, Kathy! I spent my entire childhood going barefoot. I was a tomboy and could climb a tree better than anybody. It would be so cool to relive those days, but if my neighbors saw me climbing a tree they'd report me, and I would be hauled away wearing a straight jacket!

Hi, Sarah:
How about a foot massage? I LOVE THEM! You know, the other day I was sort of moaning and groaning about needing to work, and it hit me: Why was I feeling that way? I was doing something I geuinely loved to do, what I was MEANT to do. I usually have those moments during my first draft because I'm trying to get the story down on paper. Once I finish it and it's time to rewrite, I HAVE A BLAST! That's when I add most of my humor. Despite the hard times I face, I am blessed to be able to do what I love.

Laraine: When I'm on deadline, it does interfere with other things, but I try to keep my priorities straight. My spiritual life and my family come first. I am still able to enjoy my greatest hobby, which is reading.

Thanks for you input and honesty, Charlotte. A character questionnaire...Hmmm. What an interesting idea!

I'm no spring chicken and I still climb trees! Who cares what the neighbors think. Have a great tour.

Late to the discussion, but curious (a bit off the main topic, though). How does co-authoring a book work? Writing seems such a personal and individual act. When working with students (and friends and relatives) on editing (and coaching storytelling, come to think of it) the oft-repeated qualification is "but it's your work, you have to decide what to do with any suggestions." How does a writing team work through characters, plot, "creative differences"?

Charlotte, sorry about those pantyhose -- but thanks for reminding me that I love rewrites more than first drafts, because that's what I needed to hear to get me back to that first draft today. Happy tour!

Passion is a physical realisation of an abstraction: Love.

So what then is love? I would argue that to be in love is to be overcome by the obsession that I have for another person.
As an aside, unrequited love can then be taken to be an unrequited passion!

We cannot force the object of our obsessive love (and any love that is not obsessive cannot endure the eternity of a lifetime) to return our obsession. But in all other things, to know if we are passionate we need only ask the question "am I obsessive about this pursuit?"

In turn the obsession manifests itself by an ability to find interest in minuatiae and in what others would regard to be merely mundane. (Which clearly answers the question so often posed: "what on earth does he/she see in him/her?!")

So then. So then it is this obsession that makes passionate commitment possible. It gets us through the long dreary periods when solutions seem ever further away, when the cause appears hopeless, when the outcome feels unattainable, when depression and hopelessness seems to be the only paving on the paths of our lives.

Oh, and I do believe you can be "successful" without being passionate in something: there are other stimuli that can drive us to success. Michaelangelo, for example, was passionate about sculpture: Everything we know about him points to a deep dislike of painting. Yet where would we be without the Sistine Chapel?

TS Eliot ends the dedication to his wife with these two lines:

"But this dedication is for others to read:
These are private words addressed to you in public"

Love, and its counterpart-passion-are private emotions and actions best expressed in a public space.

An obsession to many. Lately, she has been writing the best articles of her.

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