Susan Crandall on Oysters and Pearls

What on earth do oysters and pearls have to do with ideas and writing? It’s really simple. I’m an oyster. Some days as I sit at my desk, feeling sluggish and slimy, wondering if I’ll ever find my way thought the muck of a particular story, it almost becomes more than a metaphor.

I am an oyster. The written word -- stories, novels, poetry, song lyrics -- are true pearls; wondrous, beautiful things created almost magically by the dull, ugly oyster. Not to say that all writers are dull and ugly … but it’s a fact that all books are beautiful in their own way, luminous and precious, just like a pearl.

Every writer approaches their story development in a different manner. For me, the oyster, here’s how it goes. It starts with a tiny grain of sand, a speck of an idea, a flash of an image, a familial relationship that strikes a chord. I may not even notice it when it first lodges in my mind. But soon, I realize it’s there, rubbing my imagination until it gains my full attention. For example, my first published novel, BACK ROADS, began with this image I had in my head of a car abandoned in the middle of a dark country road with the driver’s door open, lights on and radio playing. It was constantly there, rubbing, irritating, until I finally asked myself why that car was sitting there in the road and what had happened to the driver. The possibilities were endless.

So, to narrow those possibilities to a manageable few hundred, I looked at it from another angle, the story building angle. I began to create a heroine whose life could be impacted by this abandoned car. Sheriff Leigh Mitchell, a woman feeling restless and utterly unfeminine, was born -- and the story, the pearl of my imagination, began. Add a stranger who reminds Leigh what it is to be a woman and a missing teenager, and the layers began to thicken.

Each book has developed in a similar fashion. Now that my sixth novel, A KISS IN WINTER, is coming out, I’ve decided that process was no fluke, this is how I work. I am an oyster.

The sand in the case of A KISS IN WINTER was my daughter’s photography. She has this way of framing a picture that gives a unique perspective to the subject matter. I loved looking at the world through her eyes. Then I started thinking about how photography allows someone else a glimpse of a photographer’s exclusive and personal view of the world. That really got the ball rolling. I ended up with a story in which the villain vandalizes the subjects of a calendar published by photographer Caroline Rogers. He’s careful and methodical. He wants her to know he’s coming. He wants her to anticipate the moment when he comes after the subject of her December photograph, her sister.

In order to decipher who could possibly have cause to embark on such a vendetta, Caroline turns to psychiatrist, Mick Larsen; a man whose professional experiences have filled him with self-doubt, a man whose choices have left disaster in their wake. Mick is reluctantly drawn into this mystery, as his feelings for Caroline grow. He has a very good idea that the ultimate target is not Caroline’s sister, but Caroline herself. Of course, it takes both Caroline and Mick to uncover the truth … but will they do it in time?

I’m very proud of my most recent pearl. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed following Mick and Caroline through the emotional and dangerous minefields that lay between them and true happiness.

Now I’m off to bury myself in the low-tide muck and see what lodges in my imagination to produce the next luminous pearl.