A while back, when I was invited to write a Regency Christmas novella, I enthusiastically agreed. Twenty thousand words. How hard could it be?
The story idea came to life in my imagination in early January, when Pat and I were travelling in Montenegro. There, Christmas was celebrated two weeks later than in most places, so we were surrounded by the holiday spirit. Okay, I was also inspired by the extremely beautiful Montenegran men. Like the Wise Men from the East who followed the star, my handsome hero would journey to the Yorkshire Moors in search of, well, I can’t give everything away.
What I failed to realize, until I tried to write the novella, was the cost of not having written a story, even a short one, for nearly five years. Cancer and Killer Chemo had sucked away a lot of focus, concentration, and awareness. In my head, the story played out vividly, but finding the words that would bring it to life on the page was far more of a challenge that I realized. Even as I wrote the story and was failing to rise to that challenge, I failed to see what I was missing.
Enter a brilliant editor and an equally brilliant “line” editor, both of them friends. Deb Dixon and Lynn Coddington had the dubious pleasure of making me aware of my failures and steering me back to a road I used to travel with great confidence. At first, it was scary. Did this mean I could no longer write to a standard I could be proud of? If so, what would I do with all the stories spinning around in my head?
In fact, as they helped me realize, the major problem was failing to live up to reader expectations for a Christmas story, and in particular, a fairly short Christmas story. I’d written only three novellas in my life, and two were written in the early 90s. The third was really a Prequel to a trilogy of novels. I was all off base when it came to plotting the story in a limited space or keeping the essential focus on the emotional development of the romance, which kept getting buried under my intricate plot.
How lucky I was to have their help when I needed it! Honestly, this was the first time any one of my books or novellas received any editorial guidance whatever. In the past, I wrote it, the editor liked it, and the publisher printed it. Pretty much just that.
I hope those days are over. If I’m off my game, if something I write needs improvement, I’ll be more than glad to hear about it. Which is not to say that I’ll always agree with everything I hear. Sometimes a good idea will take a story in a whole different direction, which is not the story I’m writing. Not this time.
But one thing is certain. Any recommendation that makes my story better, whatever the source, I welcome it with open arms. So thanks, DebD and LynnC, for helping me rediscover what it is to write a story that turns out to be what it was meant to be.