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.

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