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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.

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!



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