From What If to Being Published! by Claudia Whitsitt

by Michael 8/1/2011 11:03:00 AM

The thing about being a writer is that you automatically belong to a world village of writers takes a village to write a book. 

Here's my friend Claudia Whitsitt  (see Shrinking Fiction in Palm Springs: Story Consulting and Writer Coaching with Michael Thompkins Leads to a Debut Novelist in the Shrinking Character Archives 2/2010) with herstory from What If to Being Published.

I began writing THE WRONG GUY three and a half years ago.  The idea was born on the beach in LaJolla, California, after I turned over my first novel for edits.  As I sat in the streaming sunlight digging holes in the sand, I thought back to a time of change in my life.  College.  I attended Eastern Michigan University on the heels of the arrest of John Norman Collins, the suspected killer in a series of brutal murders of co-eds that attended either Eastern Michigan or the University of Michigan.   I played “what if”.  What if the cops had the wrong guy?  What if there was another guy? And my brain took off!  THE WRONG GUY is loosely based on the Michigan Murders. The escalating deaths shocked my peaceful life and affected who I was and how I behaved.  For a lifetime.  My dorm mates and I were cautioned at every turn to travel in two’s, preferably with a male, to carry mace and whistles on our key rings and to never go anywhere with a strange young man we did not know.  Seemed reasonable.  But this was college, right?  Weren’t we trying to meet guys?  Weren’t our lives supposed to be carefree?  Not for co-eds at Eastern Michigan University or the U of M.[more]

When I first began writing THE WRONG GUY, I felt torn using the deaths of seven innocent girls as the foundation for the story.  I lay in bed at night fretting.  I didn’t want to exploit these women, but the enormity of my own experience on the heels of their kidnappings and brutal murders shaped my life in a profound way.  As women often do, I remember my college years with the utmost clarity, but I’ve often wondered if it wasn’t the fear, the unity of a community, the strong desire to protect each other from harm, that made the experience even more unforgettable. I told myself that writing the story kept these girls alive in some way, and reminded us all never to skimp on safety and to care for and protect one another.  And I kept on writing.

I was a third of the way into the novel when I attended the Southern California Writers Conference  in 2008.  It was there that I met Michael Thompkins, psychologist and author of GUN PLAY.  Michael offered to help me craft the book and I signed up immediately.  He became my coach. As I mentioned, I had written a novel before THE WRONG GUY but longed to hone my new craft and become a better writer.  Working with Michael stretched my wings, my brain, and my heart.  I learned a ton about plot, character and craft.  As I recall, the first major exercise he assigned as my writing coach had to do with completely rewriting the novel from first to third person.  I think I said a few bad words.  Maybe more than a few.


Looking back, the switch in POV allowed me to move into a new arena.  Every step of the way, switching POV, tightening text, talking plot, all challenged me to become a better writer.  Michael and I worked fifty pages at a time.  I’d write the pages, he’d read, edit, and assign me a new task.  It was grueling.  It was exciting.  It was mind-expanding.  I became a better writer with each and every new task.

When I finished the book (a year later), I submitted it to a publisher, Karen Syed, at Echelon Press. Karen showed interest in the book and I submitted the manuscript.  It took forever to hear back…but even five minutes seemed like forever back then. Then, she offered me a contract.  After I did cartwheels in the snow on my front lawn in January, I fretted. It was a tough decision.  I could wait and sign with a bigger publisher.  I could sign and get published and establish a readership.  Back, forth.  Back, forth. I decided to go for it!  Late last fall, the final work began. Edits.  Serious edits.  I was intimidated by the deadlines and the enormity of the task.  But I’d done hard work before.  I’d been in training.  By January 2011, it was finished.  Putting it to bed felt enormously satisfying. I’d spent three years of my life invested in this project, and now I put my final stamp of approval on the manuscript.Saturday, February 26, 2011, my book was released.  THE WRONG GUY is available at,,, and It’s been an awesome and amazing journey. I have learned every step of the way.  Thanks Coach, I couldn't have done it without you!


Shelly Frome Returns on the Writer's Art: the "What-if?"

by Michael 2/18/2011 8:50:00 AM

 And here's a new article by an old friend, fellow writer, and New Englander Shelly Frome about the by now classic in the Art of Writing--the "What-if?"  Shelly's bio can be found in the archive under Shrinking Character--Shrinking Fiction: Meet Shelly Frome.

Stalking the springboard for a crime novel  by Shelly Frome

            Someone once told me that you don’t have the necessary ingredients of a good crime novel unless one of your basic assumptions is threatened or, at the very least, you  have to come to terms with some facet of ongoing reality that’s really troubling you. The noted screenwriter and novelist William Goldman put it another way: “You write for revenge.” Be that as it may, though it may have a lot to do with the aforementioned comments, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what sets me off. Take my antic, edgy Hollywood novel. While staying at the Avalon at the corner of Olympic and Beverly Drive doing research for my book on screenwriting, everyone behind the reception desk was quick to note they were really actors or would-be screenwriters; the waiters and waitresses told me they were actually undiscovered talent. In no time, a short walk up the street revealed a paunchy middle-aged man standing in front of Al’s outdoor news-stand yelling into his cell phone, “Listen to me, Harry!  I’m telling you the me you think you know has breached the barricade. I’m gonna be taking a meeting, pitching a sure-fire idea for a vampire flick. I kid you not!”  And this, as they say, is just for openers.  

While all this was going on, despite the countless pipe dreams and illusions I encountered, there were signs that something approximating reality might be percolating beneath. At the park fronting the Santa Monica Pier, a shaggy-looking drifter in his early thirties was telling a well-tanned homeless man, “I tell you, you better watch out, you know?  It’s going down tonight.” And though she was reluctant to talk about it, my sister, who has a home just off La Cienega and Orlando, had bars installed on her windows after someone hot-wired her car while it was parked in her driveway and drove away into the night.  In addition, my mother’s house, about ten miles east, had been fitted with iron bars that were even more foreboding.[more]

            By then, imaginatively, the lines began to blur. While visiting a contact at an old vintage studio tucked away a few blocks south of Paramount, a police helicopter circled overhead while my wife and I were driven by a sound stage housing episodes of a low-grade TV cop show.  Presently, our guide took us past weathered back lots—the façade of a western town, a crumbling moon walk, etc.--that seemed to be crying out to be brought back to life.  Perhaps offering itself as an arena where tinsel and trouble could meet.  By then, something blowing in on the dry Santa Ana winds and a whimsical script doctor trying to shape a storyboard came into play. Call the writer Ben.  As the tale opens, Ben is faced with turning his career around within the next few days or else. With this time-frame always in mind, Ben is willing to vie for any opportunity no matter how outlandish. This is definitely not just another day, all his assumptions of a dream that has to come true by the time he’s thirty have long since been shattered and he is unwittingly on a collision course with a great unknown. The title of the book also seemed to be self-generating: TINSELTOWN RIFF.


In contrast, the springboard for my currently released mystery THE TWINNING MURDERS  is perhaps more accessible, the unfolding action more meaningful to a wider audience. But again, that’s not why I began developing the story. As it happens, I live in a quaint historic New England village.  Recently an urban development corporation set up shop with a view toward clearing an expanse of meadow and upland that had been untouched for hundreds of years, a beautiful tract adjacent to our own property.  The plan--turn it into a highly profitable 170-unit condo facility replete with recreation facilities. Moreover, only a few years beforehand, my wife and I were given a personal tour by an affable Southern lady through the west of England from Bath, to Devon and Cornwall. At almost the same time, we discovered we had a sister village in England when a coterie came to call as the beginnings of an exchange program. When the developers steamrolled their way through the local planning commission with scarcely any opposition, I found myself yet again at odds with the way of things. Taken into account the sister villages, an amiable woman who lives on the edge of the moors in Devon told me, “Dear, I think you’re conjuring up a twinning..”


            As an incurable storyteller always asking myself what if?, soon enough an unwitting heroine began to appear in my imagination (a tour guide of course whose name suitably was Emily) along with an event that touched her deeply. In this case it was a surrogate father, environmentalist and head of the planning commission and the only obstacle in the way of the developers. As soon as he was dispatched by unseen hands and the powers that be kept dragging their heels, Emily was up against it on both sides of the pond. I allowed this character-driven as well as plot-driven venture to unfold because I had at least three vital ingredients: someone to care about, the ties that bind, and something vital at stake in the form of great wrongs that had to be put to rights.




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