When I was 12, I decided I was going to write a book. Not like all those other times I wanted to write a book and abandoned it after a few pages or chapters. I was going to finish it. I would write a chapter a day, and I'd be done in, like, a month. Tops.
Excellent plan. Except...um...no. ;-) The chapter a day thing soon fell by the wayside. But I was still determined to finish it, however long it might take me. This was (a) the day before laptops and (b) when I was in middle school, so I handwrote it. Carried it around in a binder and wrote in class whenever I'd finished my work. When I needed a name, I'd just turn to the person next to me and say, "Hey, I need a boy name." Perfect. All my best friends got to be characters. Melissa and Brittney and Lisa and Jennifer...yep.
The book was set in 1850-something England, and it was called Golden Sunset, Silver Tear. Heroine was Brook Moon, raised as a princess in a small European kingdom I called Brattenburg. Hero was Justin Wildon, a future English duke, and Brook's best friend. When she discovers she's really the daughter of an English baron, she has to make her way back to England with Justin's help...and discover the secrets that killed her parents. It was a pretty blatant rip-off of Lori Wick's The Hawk and the Jewel, LOL, but I did my best to make it unique. I mean, I did have diamonds hidden in her bead necklace, after all. That was pretty original.
A year later, I penciled my last lines onto the page. My first completed novel, at age 13. One of my friends (Melissa, who was Brook's cousin in the story, LOL) was at my house when I finished. We celebrated with ice cream. She made me a card and brought it to school on Monday. It was pretty darn awesome.
I needed to type it up, but I didn't really have time during the school year, so over the summer I put myself on a schedule. I typed up two chapters a day, rewriting as I went. I added a lot during that first revision.
Then came that scary time we all know so well. Submitting it.
When I looked at the books I loved that were Christian Historical Romance, like Golden was, I found they were from two main publishers. Harvest House and Bethany House. And given that Harvest published Lori Wick, whom I had just ripped off (ahem), that narrowed it right down. I would query Bethany House.
I did. And soon had my first form rejection letter in hand, with a literal checklist of reasons why it might have been rejected, and that vague "not a good fit for us at this time" box ticked off.
A milestone, that. ;-) I kept submitting. I kept writing. Middle school was soon high school, and I discovered that Monaco was a perfect setting for my story--Brattenburg went bye-bye, and I felt pretty cool for instead making Brook an adopted Grimaldi. I also decided the hidden diamonds should be red, the rarest color. I made the changes and sent it out again. In that day before handy dandy online communities or writers groups, I was relying on my Market Guide and how much postage I could afford (because no one accepted email queries yet). My parents were fabulously supportive, but it soon became clear that I would not be published at 15 like I thought. Or 16. Or 17. But that was okay. I just kept writing, and finished another novel, very different from the first.
Then college rolled around, and I decided to break Golden back out and see how bad it was, LOL. Insert the next giant rewrite. But I just sat on it. At that point, I had so many other ideas, and more finished manuscripts. My attention turned elsewhere. I graduated college, my husband and I started a family.
Then I heard that Love Inspired was starting a historical line, and I thought, "Hey, why not dust off Golden?" So I got it out. I reread it. And I realized that, um, no. I couldn't just "dust it off." It required a total and complete overhaul.
Of all the times I'd reread and tweaked and edited, this was the most monumental of my revisions. This was the point where I came to a big epiphany--my words, my ideas, were not sacred. I was not bound by them. I could change anything I wanted to change. I could not only correct, I could create. I could ditch scenes. I could insert scenes. More, I could alter the whole course of the book. This story wasn't master of me, I was master of it (mostly...). Before whenever I'd work on it, I'd work within the scenes I'd first imagined. This time, I pretty much started from scratch. I kept the premise and the main characters' names and changed most everything else. Melissa was still a cousin. Otherwise, all other secondary names changed. ;-)
It ended up too long for LIH, but I took it with my to my first conference, the 2007 ACFW conference. It had already been eleven years since I finished the first draft, but I loved the new version. I'd retitled it Fire Eyes, and I felt like it could actually sell now. So I met with an agent--Janet Benrey. And I met with an editor--Karen Schurrer of Bethany House (which I got a total kick out of, given that they were the first ones to reject the original MS).
Years went by. Again. While Janet submitted Fire Eyes to every publisher under the sun, I kept writing. Giving her new books to submit. Trying other things. I landed a deal with Summerside Press/Guidepost. Then a three-book deal with Harvest House.
When my Summerside book released, it got a lovely review from Romantic Times--and Karen S. emailed a congrats. When my second Harvest House book got a fabulous review from Publishers Weekly, she's actually the one who let me know--and scanned the article and sent it to me. I'd submitted a few other things to her over the years, but they just never worked for Bethany. She said at one point, "I feel like if we could just find the project that would click, you'd be one of our authors!"
Fast forward another little while. My first agent had retired, and I had signed with Karen Ball, who is legendary in CBA circles as an editor and had recently moved to agenting. The Downton Abbey craze had just taken hold, and she had editors looking for Edwardians. "Do you have anything set in the early 1900s?" she asked me. "Or anything you could revise?"
Revise? Hmm. Mention of revisions bring only one book to mind...and you know, Brook and Justin's story could totally work as an Edwardian! I could picture her stealing a car instead of a horse. Her attitude fit the changing times. Justin's piratical friend could be a race car driver instead of a sailor. Yes, yes it could work! So I started a rewrite and retitled it The Stolen Baroness.
|Photo of Burton Agnes Hall by Richard Needham|
And again, I hit that point where I had to toss much of my original to the wind. I decided to introduce new characters and get rid of some that had been with me since the first version. Some of the premises changed. But I liked it. I really liked it. And Karen B. (agent) loved it--and Karen has good taste. ;-) So when it came time to pitch again, she wanted to pitch this one.
Just before Christmas of 2013, she let me know that an editor at Bethany House was interested. It wasn't Karen S., it was one of her coworkers, a lovely lady named Charlene. But when Charlene let us know it was going to committee, I got a fun message from Karen S. on Facebook. To the effect of, "Hey, I recognize that! Love what you've done with it! Wouldn't it be a blast if, seven years later, we came full circle on this?"
And we did--in February I got the amazing new that Bethany House bought the series. Though the name got changed again before it went to committee, LOL. It's now The Lost Heiress.
|Burton Agnes Hall photo by Richard Needham|
Nineteen years after I first decided, "Hey, I'm going to write a novel." It's gone through 4 titles. Countless revisions. It has switched years, lost characters, gained characters. My heroine is now Brook Eden, and the father that started out dead in the original is now alive and witty. Her adoptive mom went from a princess to an opera singer. From a fictional kingdom to Monaco.
But Brook still has blond hair, green eyes, and a bad temper. Justin's name miraculously hasn't changed (though his title name has), he's still a future duke, and his home is still Ralin Castle. There are still diamonds hidden in her necklace...though the the beads turned into pearls.
And now here I am, with my first-ever book in the hands of the first publisher I submitted it to...for the third time. A 19-year journey of rewrites and submissions and rejections and more rewrites. Nine other published books and 27 other manuscripts in the meantime. But it's finally happened. Her day has finally come.
I get excited about all my books, but this one...this one is something special. This is my FIRST NOVEL. And I wanted to share the story with you guys so that I could share a couple things that got me to this point. First, always move on to the next project until you find the one that works. But second, never give up totally on those early ones if you still love them. With work, they can live again.