Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Weird Thing Happened

In 1987 Dell published my single title paranormal romance The Dreaming Pool. I wrote the book as Paula Christopher for my sons Chris and Paul. The plot involves a stolen racehorse owned by the hero, Gage Roundtree. The heroine is Eslin Hillary, a clairvoyant. I figured you’d need a clairvoyant to find a 1200-lb. horse that has apparently vanished off the face of the earth.

My characters finally find the horse in Oaxaca, Mexico. On their way there (Oaxaca is near the border with Guatemala) they stop off in Mexico City. As I was writing this scene, I heard on the 6 o’clock news that a horrible earthquake had flattened a large part of the city. I freaked and called my editor and asked her if I should take Mexico City out of the book. No, she said, because I wasn’t specific about the year my characters were there. She also assured me that I had not caused the earthquake.

But I wondered….

In 1993 I wrote Aftershock for Harlequin Temptation as a part of a 4-book series called Passion’s Quest. Each book centered on one of the four elements, earth, wind, fire and water. I wrote about earth. The plot of Aftershock involves a little gizmo I dreamed up called the TAQ box, which stands for Tremor and Quake Warning Device.

The hero of the story invents it and the heroine’s father steals it. The machine is designed to detect an earthquake, but if you crank it up too high, it will cause one. Of course it falls into the wrong hands and my characters, Sheridan and Rockie, have to get it back before the bad guys blow up a Middle Eastern oil field. Earlier in the book the bad guys use the TAQ box to set off a couple little test quakes in the Mojave Desert.

Aftershock had no sooner hit the bookstores in February of 1994 when the Northridge earthquake struck California. The TAQ box is a figment of my imagination. I did not cause the Northridge quake or the one in Mexico City, but I’ll tell you what -- I’ve sworn off writing about natural disasters.

I do love to write about weird stuff – woo-woo, as I call it – but I was more careful next time. I wrote Nightwing, a vampire story so I wouldn’t have to worry about a sudden invasion of the undead attacking the world.

I also think a lot of the lore about vampires is pretty silly. I wanted to poke fun at it and make a point that has always escaped me when I read vampire stories. I don’t care how gorgeous the vamp is, why would any right-headed woman want to spend eternity with a blood-sucking monster?

To accomplish that I had to change my vampire hero back to a mortal man. That part of the story, the method I used to return Johnny Raven to the land of the living, I made up. I guess I did a pretty good job because I can’t tell you how many people asked me to tell them the title of the book where I’d found all that cool stuff about vampires. I told them I’d made it up, but I’m not sure they believed me.

Temptation had just published Nightwing when I went to Hawaii for the Romance Writers of America's national Conference. Aftershock was a finalist for the RITA award, and I wanted to be there in case I won. I didn't. The next year, Nightwing was a RITA finalist in the Paranormal Category.

About the same time Nightwing came out, Harlequin American published a vampire novel by Margaret St. James aka Maggie Osborne, Love Bites. Great title. Wish I’d thought of it.

At the Harlequin party in Hawaii, I was sitting on a terrace by the beach with my shoes off listening to the surf when four women wandered up and joined me. One of them recognized my name on my conference badge and connected it to Nightwing. She’d read the book and loved it. So much that she told her friends how great the book is and that they must read it. And then she started to tell them the plot – only she told them the plot of Love Bites.

I didn’t say a word. I just smiled and thought, “Oh well. At least she got my name right.”

Aftershock is available on Kindle, Nook and at All Romance Ebooks. Nightwing is also available on Kindle, Nook, and at All Romance Ebooks.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Story Behind the Story -- Remembrance

This is The Book That I Thought Would Never Sell. Hannibal had an easier time getting the elephants over the Alps than my agent and I had selling this book.

Like Second Sight, Remembrance was a story that I worked on for years, on and off, and like Second Sight, I started writing Remembrance while I was in college. I did a lot of theater in college, one act plays, Nora in The Doll House. I even did musical reviews, but since I have a voice like Lucy Ricardo I was always in the chorus.

Remembrance has a theatrical background, but it's way, way in the background. Fundamentally this is ghost story. Here's the book description:

Cathy Martin doesn't believe in ghosts -- until she arrives at her famous grandmother's home on Martha's Vineyard to coauthor the actress's memoirs. Eight writers have already fled the island, and soon Cathy, too, is questioning the strange goings on -- and the motives of Fin McGraw.

Fin, the embodiment of her late grandfather as a young man, has become the constant companion of Cathy's very eccentric and very rich grandmother. He claims to be a struggling actor, yet his story rings false.

Cathy is suspicious even as she craves his touch, his scorching kisses. Does Fin have love or larceny on his mind?

I used a scene from Remembrance as as assignment in my creative writing course, the scene where Cathy, her grandmother Cat, and Had the gardener all puff like crazy on fat black cigars provided by Cat's major domo, Helmut, to chase away Cat's very selfish and very allergic daughter, Patsy. Everyone in the class laughed when I read it aloud.

When I finished, the professor said that the story might someday make a "very nice little romance novel." That was the first I'd ever heard of romance novels, so I didn't understand his condescending tone. When I figured it out later, and when Remembrance was nominated for a RITA, the Oscar of romance writing from the Romance Writers of America, I thought about looking him up and giving him the raspberry.

Remembrance was my first book for Harlequin. Before Temptation bought it, my agent had sent the book to every romance publisher in New York. For a year and a half Remembrance made the rounds. The editors that read the proposal loved it, but passed on buying the book because they couldn't categorize it. The book is a romance, but it's also a ghost story with a strong reincarnation theme. In those days most publishers were not interested in paranormal stories. Remembrance was a square peg book looking for a home in a world of round hole publishers.

I was bummed, so was my agent, but we'd given it our best shot. I sighed and tucked Remembrance away in a drawer.

About a year later I attended a romance writers conference. Susan Shepherd was then an editor at Temptation. In her workshop she said she was looking for unusual stories, stories that didn't fit the norm of romance. That was Remembrance. I called my agent and told her what Susan had said.

What the heck, we decided. The book was just collecting dust so we brushed it off and sent it to Temptation in Toronto. Since we'd had no takers in New York, neither one of us expected much -- I think that's why we forgot about it. Yep, that's not a typo. We forgot about it.

Almost a year to the day later my agent called, so excited she could hardly talk. Susan Shepherd had called her and wanted to buy Remembrance. I was flabbergasted -- and thrilled.

I dedicated the book to Judy and Marie, members of my critique group, and two of the books toughest critics. They loved Remembrance but told me flat out that the first chapter stunk. Thirty-four times it stunk. I finally got it right on the thirty-fifth draft. That's not a typo, either -- I rewrote the first chapter thirty-five times.

This story has two lessons. One, never give up on a book that you love, and two, keep rewriting till you get it right.

Remembrance is available on Kindle, Nook, and at All Romance Ebooks.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Story Behind the Story -- Second Sight

Finally PubIt!, the ebook platform at Barnes & Noble, has published the updated file of Second Sight. I have no idea what the hold up was, other than I think the PubIt! customer service department is located on the dark side of the moon. Maybe I shouldn't have, but I hate it when I can't get my hands on a book I want to read so I waited for the book to go live. Sorry for the delay. Don't think I'll do it again. Anyway...

I told you about my easy-peasy sales, now we're getting into the tough ones with
Second Sight. This is one of my most favorite books. I love everything about it, so much that I've thought about rewriting the book just so I could play with the characters again.

The first character to introduce herself to me was the heroine, Susan Cade, in a scene when she was thirteen, sitting on the backend of a horse trailer on a two-bit racetrack in Oklahoma. I was a junior in college at the time, struggling through Advanced Rhetoric, one of the toughest courses I ever took. I swear the professor stayed up late combing arcane dictionaries for the most obscure words he could find to bamboozle us with the next day. I was so glad when Susan showed up. Writing about her was way more fun than studying written forms of argument.

I survived Advanced Rhetoric with a B. I didn't understand a single word the professor said, barely passed the exams with D's, but I aced the papers -- and I kept writing about Susan. I followed her from Oklahoma to Foxglove Farm in Virginia, where she met Richard Parker-Harris, her cousin Meredith's stepbrother. For Susan it was love at first sight; for Richard it was instant loathing. His nickname for Susan was Troglodyte. She was the bane of Richard's life at Foxglove, especially after she broke his nose with a riding crop.

I wrote other books, other stories, but I always came back to Susan and Richard. By the time I'd sold my second book to Harlequin I'd written close to 500 pages about Susan adoring Richard, and Richard avoiding her like the plague. Until he came home to the States from England, saw Susan for the first time in eight years and fell instantly in lust with her.

The Patriot, that second book for Temptation, was such an easy sale that I naively thought I had a golden touch. That's embarrassing to admit but it's the truth. This was the perfect time, I decided, to send my editor a proposal for Susan and Richard's story. I named it Gift Horse and popped it in the mail.

I was positive my editor would love the book but she didn't -- she hated it. Most of all she hated Richard. She utterly despised him. She called me and spent ten minutes trashing him and the story I loved. She didn't have one nice word to say. Ouch. I was stunned. Susan was devastated.

About a week later I got the proposal back from my editor with her very detailed notes. I read them and gritted my teeth; read them again and had to take an Excedrin. I was so ticked off. How dare she! What did she know anyway? I had a royal, three-day hissy fit and then I realized, damn it -- she was right.

was a complete jerk. He was not the least bit likable or sympathetic. He had good reasons for behaving like an ass. He drank too much to deaden his emotional pain, but I failed to show that to the reader. I knew better, but I was so enamored with the story and yes, I admit it, my own brilliance (cough) that I blew it.

What do writers do when we blow it? We rewrite.

I rethought the story -- especially the beginning -- and I rethought how I'd portrayed Richard. Then I called my editor. I told her she was right, that I'd rewritten the proposal and asked her if she'd read it again. Fortunately, she said yes. I sent the revised proposal, she read it, she liked it, and she bought
Second Sight. Though I still like the title Gift Horse better.

Susan was over the moon. I was happy, and humbled. Here's the moral to this story: sometimes the editor is right.

Gift Horse -- I mean,
Second Sight -- is available on Kindle, at All Romance ebooks and finally on Nook.