Plot Twists and Page Turns

By: Connie Holcombe, RID

As a design student, I was told that a degree in interior design would touch every part of my adult life. My teachers weren’t wrong. I don’t believe they could have imagined how far-reaching every project and every class would prove to be.

We all remember our first disastrous attempt at space planning and pulling finishes for fake projects with no budgets (totally realistic, right?). Some other things I glazed over–the book covers Mr. Crowson, my Photoshop teacher, assigned and all the research I had to do on cultural details for fictitious client workups.

Also ignored was all the experience I gained as a document formatter during my time as a work-study student. The hundreds of pages of CIDA accreditation documentation had to be proofread and presented “just so.” That was quite a learning curve.

Now, color psychology was something that really caught my attention. Manipulating someone’s emotions and behavior just by subjecting them to specific color schemes was fascinating although I had no plans to utilize the information. I had no interest in helping clients select finishes. I only wanted to space-plan and model in 3D. Still, the idea that I could increase someone’s heart rate with the right colors and patterns was intriguing.

Like the rest of you, I graduated, began practicing and spent all my time designing custom homes and permit drawings for my clients and other designers. As my skills in 3D modeling improved, so did my penchant for building worlds in my head. Not only did I make tangible buildings and homes, I also imagined their settings in all four seasons. I wanted to know how the house would look with sunlight reflecting off a white blanket of snow. I wanted to hear the difference in the sound of rain falling on a shingle roof versus a standing seam metal roof. These were my fanciful imaginations with no outlet, or so I thought.

One day, sitting in an ICU room with my father in a coma and my mother with stage four cancer, I had enough and checked out of my painful reality.

All the conversations and presentations for clients I had practiced in my head– memories I had lived, dream worlds I had envisioned and colors of emotions–swirled together until a story was born.

Images 1-4 Ranger Mine Series by Jo Chambliss

At that moment, sitting in that stiff institutional chair and listening to all the beeping machines, my design degree began shaping into something new. I closed down the floor plan I’d been preparing and opened Microsoft Word. That day, I started writing my first novel. Five years later, I’ve written and published sixteen military action romance books.

Has my design career given me an edge, elevating several of my books to best-seller status? I’d like to think so. Romance writers use words to invoke certain emotions from their readers but, by describing the right combination of colors and textures, I can frame readers’ feelings and expectations before a character says their first word.

Images 5-13 Waterproof Navy SEALs series by Jo Chambliss

When my first book was finished, my editor helped me polish the story, but the presentation was still up to me. Does this sound familiar to peer reviews, board building, slide shows and portfolios? It can be expensive to hire someone to format stories for every type and size of release.  Unless… I fell back on all that professional formatting training I learned as a student assistant to create perfectly structured manuscripts for e-book readers, domestic and international paperbacks and hardback copies.

Images 14-17 Knot PMC series by Jo Chambliss

Of course, people always judge a book by its cover, no matter what the saying says. In the beginning, I designed my own book jackets, smiling at some of the crazy covers Mr. Crowson had us produce in class. I’ve since hired a designer but have the final say in all cover designs. Maybe the most fun is applying the elements and principles of design to all the fun swag I distribute at book signings. If you know me, you know I’m not an artist, but the simple principles are easy to apply to all my graphic choices. ***Pictures not included. I do write spicy books, after all.***

Who’s to say these stories would have come to me regardless of my career path? Maybe, maybe not. I believe without the education and experience afforded to me by this fantastic industry of ours, I wouldn’t have had the tools or knowledge to make these characters into anything more than a figment of my imagination.

Life is full of many wonderful things to be. Don’t pick just one.
-Jo Chambliss (Connie Holcombe, RID)