For those of you who do not know Shreve Stockton, more than a year and a half ago, she "adopted" a ten-day-old orphaned coyote. A city girl in the past, today she lives in Wyoming with a tomcat, a hound, and Charlie, the coyote. A professional photographer, Shreve snapped photographs of Charlie from the day he came into her life. She has been sending out a daily photo email ever since. Her blog based on the photos Daily Coyote did what many writers and photographers and artists dream of doing = attract attention from several publishers.
A memoir based on the first year with Charlie resulted in Daily Coyote: A Story of Love, Survival, and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming, published by Simon & Shuster.
"Stockton's journey of sharing her life with a wild animal... makes for a fascinating and rewarding read." Publishers Weekly.
Daily Coyote has been touted as the next Eat, Pray, Love.
Daily Coyote is deeper and more profound.
As the giant Barnes & Noble writes of Daily Coyote: "This full-color illustrated book will change your view of an entire species."
Shreve gives up that which is the most important to her -- her freedom -- to care for Charlie. She writes beautifully about tolerance and love, a crisis of faith, and her ultimate transformation.
I asked Shreve about her writing process, with an emphasis on plot.
Blockbuster Plots [BBP]: How do you go about plotting your books?
Shreve Stockton [SS]: The very first thing I did was make an outline - one page for each chapter (which for Daily Coyote was broken down by months). I brainstormed everything that happened in each particular month, writing things down as I thought of them - events, people involved, my own feelings at the time, etc. Once that was all down on paper, I could begin to see the emerging mini-themes of each chapter as well as clearly seeing everything I needed to incorporate in each chapter - the flow of the action. Once I began writing, I had a stack of envelopes labeled with each chapter so when I thought of additional bits I wanted to add into different chapters as I worked on the first and second drafts, I could jot notes onto scraps of paper and stick them in the appropriate envelope to then revisit and incorporate in later drafts.
BBP: Are you a pre-plotter or after the fact?
SS: Preplotter. Since the Daily Coyote is a memoir, all the events happened before I wrote the book, so I "had them" already - the events were the facts of my life.
BBP: What methods did you find particularly useful in plotting out your project?
SS: The most difficult part was deciding which events, scenes, and occurences to include in the book and which to leave out - I could not write every single thing that happened over the course of the year or the book would have been 3000 pages long. It was helpful to realize that whatever I wrote would be new information to the reader, and they wouldn't know (or miss) the little vingettes I had to leave out. And so I determined which were the most pivotal and indicative scenes and events, and the ones that kept the story moving. To do this, I had to separate myself a bit from "my life" and act as the steward of the story - answering the question "what is best for the book" while still being absolutely honest and true to life.
BBP: Do you consciously develop thematic significance?
SS: I had an idea of the thematic significance of the book when I began but it grew and evolved, through the act of writing, into something far greater, far more powerful than I had imagined when I first set out. I learned so much more about myself and the other players in the book as I wrote, and this created a depth I did not have when I began, and the thematic significance of the book grew from this of its own accord and was remarkable to discover once I completed the book.
BBP: Are you a character-driven writer or action-driven?
SS: Definitely Character-Driven. It is my nature to analyze myself and the inner workings of others and I am grateful that in memoir, the action was already determined for me - it was Life! So I didn't need to invent the action or order it as one would in fiction.
BBP: Plot tips to share?
SS: Helpful tips I learned from my experience with this book: Do as Martha says and WRITE THE FIRST DRAFT ALL THE WAY THROUGH BEFORE GOING BACK AND REVISING! This is outrageously helpful in so many ways, hard as it may be, and is probably one of the most valuable things you can do for your story.
Also, set impossible deadlines. I had six months from when I was approached to write the book to the date the final draft was due. It nearly killed me and I'd never wish that kind of time crunch on anyone, but I was amazed and thrilled by how much I could accomplish in a shorter amount of time than I thought possible, and just in writing to get it done because I had to, the first and second drafts were FAR better than I thought they could be.
I guess the point is that we're all capable of much more than we realize, and having a deadline where you have to put self-doubt aside in order to acheive the deadline can actually help to bring out your own genius. If you think it will take you 1 month to do a draft of one chapter, tell yourself and your toughest friend that you have 2 1/2 weeks. And when the deadline arrives, you have to move on to the next chapter. Try it!
Thanks Martha, for the opportunity to share my experience!
Shreve, you're more than welcome! And, thank you for mentioning me and BBP in the acknowdedgments section of your book. I'm humbled be part of such a life-changing book, which is sure to become a classic. Congratulations!!