How Do You Start A Novel?

I remember my fiction-novel-writing professor, James Thayer, explained how novels get planned. Most of the time the novelist has a full outline, then writes the paragraphs. Another, think it’s Ellery Queen, wrote about four novels at the same time, in corners of his office room.

Hey, if it fits, wear it.

Well, something just happened that I’m excited about. Yes, have written the first draft book for Jessica Cox, in detailing her armless life from the perspective of her father and husband…but also, with great input from her. Jessica will add some notes, edit some of mine and send me pictures. When it’s a wrap I’ll let you know. Hope her foundation can publish and promote it. In addition, I’m seeing if we can bring her to Austin to speak and to visit. That would be great. To put it mildly.

Back to deciding upon a novel. Most of the time it’s a single idea that launches the novel. In the first one I wanted to murder a minister on Tillamook Bay. Nothing more, nothing less. In another I wanted to delve into a multiple-personality situation [from my personal experience with someone who has 13 personalities]. In another I learned that a pastor and her husband weren’t married. They were both gay but feigned the marriage because otherwise their jobs were at stake. Another was to expand a fishing trip I took 2 years ago on the Columbia River. Hey, what’s a fishing trip without a murder? And in this recent novel it was to spend some time in Bend, Oregon with Nathan Spark who is Tricia’s lover. It “just happened” he was kidnapped while fly fishing the Deschutes River, locked in a lightless cabin for 7 days, almost didn’t survive dehydration. Then Nathan and Tricia got married [thought the marital bond would be timely] and learned in Tricia’s 5th month of pregnancy their child would be armless. That’s the last chapter of “Living Without Arms,” now published [in case you’re interested???]

Then wrote about my visit in Tucson with Jessica. That probably was the easiest and fastest I’ve written because I was brimming over with excitement and enthusiasm and couldn’t wait to tell Jessica’s story. She is beyond saintly…at least as I talk with people and see her in action. The waiter didn’t even wince as Jessica and Patrick and I prayed in a restaurant. I held Patrick’s hand and Jessica’s foot. Why not?

So. All this prattling is leading somewhere. How does a novel get planned?

I HAVE to share this because it’s happened in the last 24 hours. I know the next novel will be about the development of Caleb Yale Gleason Spark, Tricia and Nathan’s armless child. That’s marinating now, with Jessica’s experience—she’s now 35—giving great illustrations on how she developed. That was my main focus.

Then…I looked through my pictures…and came upon this and thought, THIS HAS TO BE THE COVER OF MY NEW NOVEL. Isn’t it breathtaking…hey, stick with me on this…it’s the Middle Rapids section of the Sol Duc River out of Forks, Washington. I LOVE IT…and so do my guides.

There’s more! Last night I picked up, the drive-thru, prescriptions for Jason. The loveliest lady helped me…polite, competent, so “with it.” One word led to another and she asked what I did. I told her about the novels [hey, that’s better than washing clothes] and she beamed, ‘Oh, I love murder mysteries; do you really?”

I smiled and then asked her, ‘Mind sharing your name?”

A great smile, “My name’s Tanisha.”

Time stopped. Right in its tracks. “What?”, I claimed, not a whisper. I then asked, “Is that Tanisha?”, spelling it out.

She nodded.

I shook my head, “Tanisha, this is amazing. In my last two novels one of the neat characters is African-American just like you, very polite, a college professor, her name’s Tamisha.”

I couldn’t believe it. Then the marination started all day today…and I GOT IT! A possible input in the next novel…have Tamisha learn she has a twin sister whom she thought was dead. But, no! Ah, only the shadow knows.

Then. This gets better. I asked some of my friends…never have done this before…if they would recommend a name for this new novel, not one paragraph written yet. And, wadda yah know…one of my most treasured friends wrote, “How about something about Tributaries? You love to fish and you have that great cover picture of the river and rapids.”

Ah, SCORE! So the new novel, now baptized and unwritten has a name: Rivers Have Tributaries. It will have Caleb growing up, Tanisha entering from stage left and all the tributaries of the river…flowing into the river and flowing out of the river. Well, maybe that’s something like life is a river with tributaries. Never know. Well, that’s not totally true, but I don’t tell all I know! Ka-Ching!


About Mark H Miller

Diane and I live in Leander, Texas. This past June 17, 2015 I celebrated the 49th anniversary of my ordination. We returned to Texas after three years in Washington, during which I served as interim minister in Bellevue/Eastgate and Mercer Island. Am planning to begin a 5th novel that will have my protagonist, Tricia Gleason, serve a year in licensed ministry in Snoqualmie, Washington. The novel, "The Lemon Drop Didn't Melt," will find Tricia wrestling with ministry challenges. None of which more daunting than someone wanting her breathing to stop. All the published novels are available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle under Mark Henry Miller. A primary goal in our return to Texas is to make sure grandchildren get lots of attention--here and in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Traveling is definitely an activity that will not slow down. With that, of course, fishing will happen. To that the t-shirt is apt, "I fish; therefore I am." In addition to novels, the book of Blogs, "Voice Of My Heart," is also available on Amazon.
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