The Beginning…

I am often asked how/when/why I began writing. So here’s a short bit about how/when/why it came about:

I’ve always had a vibrantly active imagination. Always, always. But as a kid, perhaps because I’m an only child, I didn’t realize that this was anything out of the ordinary. I thought everyone experienced stories bursting to life in their head like I did (and do), and I thought everyone had an intense drive to write them or act them out. And that’s exactly what I did throughout my childhood–either acting out stories with my best bud, or taking my grandmother’s typewriter, lugging it out to the old woodshed (no idea why the woodshed, guess it felt like a cozy writing nook) and writing stories.

Also as a child, I loved to read. Scholastic book orders were among my favorite events. But I wasn’t a sedentary kid either. I was always zooming around my super small community on my motorcycle (pretending it was a car, acting out stories, of course) and I was in many (many many!) theatrical and dance performances at the local theatre–always expressing feeling and imagination in a disciplined way (not much has changed there). Also, my father was a race car driver so on long trips to wherever his races were, I’d gobble up books, asking to stop in every city along the way for new, fresh reads.

As an adult, one summer I ventured to a fishing village in Florida to visit some family friends and I was desperate for some entertainment while sitting outside in the swampy heat (others were smoking inside), so I headed to the nearest Wal-Mart (the only place in that town to buy a book), and purchased three books by Nora Roberts. And I was hooked. I was home. Having never read romance novels before then, the whole experience resonated deeply within me.

Soon after, I moved to New York after being offered a position at CNN. Across the country from my friends and family, and knowing only one person when I arrived there, I spent a lot of time in my imagination as I wandered up and down the streets, through Central Park, along the Hudson River, investigating the feel and flavors of my new city.

Because I was largely alone–in a densely populated city–that time I spent in my imagination was important for me. It gave me company, it entertained me, and helped me feel connected as I learned the ways of this new life adventure I was on.

I remember one day having this very strong, very distinct feeling under the surface that I wanted to connect with. It wasn’t a neighborhood I wanted to go to, it wasn’t a store, it wasn’t a restaurant, or place. I trekked to the nearest Barnes & Noble, then the Borders bookstore, scanning the shelves, searching for the book that contained the feeling of the world my imagination craved to dive into. It was such a specific feeling that I was seeking, I roamed every aisle, every genre, and couldn’t find it on any page in any book on any shelf.

And I remember it dawning on me like a flash of light bursting in my heart: the story was within me. It was my story to write. So I went home, back to my itty bitty studio apartment on the Upper West Side, and I wrote that story.

Isla while living in NYC
Isla while living in NYC

That first novel, I’m happy to say, will remain locked away forever. It was me working through those initial  kinks as a creator, I suppose. But then I sat down and wrote Hidden Harbor and haven’t looked back.

I am so incredibly grateful for this career. I love the whole process (even on days where a lot of wrestling is involved), including the imaginative elements (the research, the what next-ing, uncovering the motivation), the discipline of writing seven days a week, the re-writing, the polishing. I love falling in love with the characters through their story. I love getting to know my characters each and every time and my favorite book is always the one I’ve just finished because their story is still within me, lingering.

And then I immediately move on to the next book. The story I’ve just finished is no longer mine. It’s for the readers. And my job is to let those characters be adored–hopefully–and to focus on the new story in front of me. A new story to feel my way through, new characters to fall in love with.

I love my job, and I’m so grateful to be doing a job that I love with my whole heart. I love the opportunity to live my dreams just as I love watching my characters strive for their dreams.

Dream big.
xo Isla


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