The story behind my novel – Renee Carlino
By Renee Carlino
I don’t remember the exact moment that the complete idea for Swear on This Life came to me, but I do remember a moment when a tiny seed was planted, long before I starting writing this book. ♥
It was a Friday, the kids were in bed and I was sharing a bottle of wine with a neighbor. We were listening to a bunch of old records and I was geeking out over music. She was laughing at how obsessed I was about a certain artist. She was saying, “Why and the hell do you know so much about him?”
I’d find an album that I liked, listen to it thirty times in a row, Google everything about the artist, and before long, I was an expert. I could tell you where they were born, what their personal life was like, who they were married to and how many kids they had – thanks mostly to Wikipedia. But I’d also try to find those intimate interviews, the obscure interviews, where the artist is a little caught off guard and I’d watch them over and over again and study that person and soon I would have a book muse.
By the time Swear on This Life starting forming legs, I had written five books, a number of screenplays, along with countless short stories. I was hitting a wall with writing and having a hard time getting into that mind space where I could be excited about writing everyday.
For me, I have to imagine myself in the story. It doesn’t matter which character I am, it can be the male or the female character, or even a friend of the protagonist, but I have to be able to daydream that I’m in it, the same way we look forward to going on a trip. We imagine all of the things we’ll do and that’s how I plan a book.
The easiest way for me to start plotting before I actually start writing is to find a muse, put him or her in a situation that I’m involved in and then let my mind go in all the directions it possibly can. I’ll plot in the car, in bed just before I’m going to sleep or while I’m sitting at the beach, watching the waves. Then I’ll come back home and put the words to paper.
With Swear on This Life, I made myself the muse. What if your first everything, your first friend and love and confidant writes a book about you? He characterizes you and describes moments of friendship, kindness and intimacy that you shared as young adults and that you always considered private? How amazing would that be? Only now the whole world is privy to your most private and sometimes gut-wrenching childhood moments. And what if you haven’t seen this friend in more than ten years when you discover the book he has written happens to be all about you?
Emiline is only torn because she is a writer herself. A budding memoirist and unfortunately, Jason has beat her to the punch. That’s the conflict that’s driving the love story. There are a lot of other conflicts in this book, but I tried to put myself in Emiline’s shoes and explore what it would feel like to be her. For me, I would feel equally flattered and irritated that I didn’t get to write my own story. That Jason, who in my mind, had abandon me, found success writing my memoir.
So, the question in this book is, why did he do it? As I got further and further into the writing, I decided it was built on the idea that I would love to be someone’s muse, but if it was a book, it would also make me have to explore my behavior, my past, who I am and how people see me. So would I really want to be someone’s muse? Maybe in a song, maybe even a painting or a photo, but probably not in a book, where I’d feel exposed the way Emiline had.
Without spoiling the ending, I had to resolve Emiline’s issues with this book and also why Jason left years prior.
What I learned about myself as a writer through this process, which some might find helpful, is that I needed a seed. The seed was planted that night with my friend when I was describing all of my “muses,” my musician and artist obsessions. She said to me, “Do you ever wish that you were someone’s muse?”
I jokingly responded, “Oh, yeah, that’s a bucket list item for sure.”
Renee Carlino is a screenwriter and bestselling author of contemporary women’s novels and new adult fiction. Her books have been featured in national publications, including USA TODAY, Huffington Post, Latina magazine, and Publisher’s Weekly. She lives in Southern California with her husband, two sons, and their sweet dog June. When she’s not at the beach with her boys or working on her next project, she likes to spend her time reading, going to concerts, and eating dark chocolate. Her new novel, Swear on this Life, is out now.