I received two interesting emails this morning. One from a writing student who participated in a class I taught last summer, and one from Fresh Fiction, a website for book lovers. Fresh Fiction generously reminded me I have a book coming out tomorrow . . .
EEEEEEK. . . .
Okay, I KNEW I had a book coming out in September, but somehow the summer flew by. Between finishing Sunset Bridge, the sequel to Happiness Key and Fortunate Harbor, entertaining family and enjoying programming here at Chautauqua Institution, the reissue of Iron Lace, published originally in 1996, just crept up on me. Now it’s about to hit bookshelves, and probably has in many places. In a year with several reissues and two original novels, somehow Iron Lace didn’t receive the nudge from me it deserved.
The second email, from my student, was a writing question. He wanted to know why, now that he’s got almost 45,000 words written on his novel, his enthusiasm has dwindled. Is that normal? What should he do?
There are stages in every novel when the writing drags. The more you write, the more you expect it. The solution is to keep plugging. I told him that in my own experience, some books never catch fire as I write them. Some are exciting to write from the first sentence to the last. And is there a correlation between the excitement I feel as I write and the success of the book?
Writers talk a lot about the “book of their heart.” Some books are so dear that we go out on a limb and write them, even without the support of agents or publishers. We toil away, not knowing if the novel will see the light of day, and we do it because we have to. The book begs to be written. We comply.
Iron Lace was such a book. When I began Iron Lace I had already written a massive number of series romances for Silhouette and Harlequin. I was proud of my romances, thrilled I had publishers who allowed me to work in serious themes and social issues. I was never told “No, you can’t do that.” I was never told, “Gosh, you need a lot more romance or sex or repartee.” I was told to write good novels about a man and a woman falling in love. I found that a joy.
Eventually, though, I realized my story ideas were too long, too involved, and too “unromantic” to fit easily into the romance genre. I wanted to explore other relationships. I wanted more room to grow. Nora Roberts once said (paraphrasing here) that writing series romance is like dancing Swan Lake in a phone booth. No one has said it better. But like some of my colleagues (Sandra Brown, Nora, Barbara Delinsky, Tami Hoag, Kay Hooper, and many, many more) I finally needed a real stage, because the phone booth had become too crowded. And the first book I set in motion there to twirl unimpeded was Iron Lace. After years of thinking about it and watching it grow and change in my head, Iron Lace, had moved south to become the book of my heart.
I would love to tell you that the experience of writing Iron Lace was painless, freeing, thrilling. I would love to tell you that the path to publication was easy. I can’t. The proposal for Iron Lace was purchased with great enthusiasm by the senior editor at a large publishing company. She loved it, then she lost her job. Meantime I had struggled with the novel, screamed, prayed, and wept, until I had a thousand (!) page manuscript. Only there was no one left to read it. My editor was not replaced; her only colleague was on maternity leave, and at best, Iron Lace was heading for a free-lancer. It would not be published well.
After months of wrangling with whomever could be cajoled to wrangle, I bought back the novel. Suddenly I had a thousand page manuscript to sell. Iron Lace made the rounds. Too long. Too different. Too controversial. At last a new, upstart single title imprint from my own publisher looked it over and said, “Yes, we can do this one justice.” Only, there was a wee problem. I had to cut 400 pages.
400 pages? Which part would that be? The beginning, the middle or the end?
My husband, who had been telling me all along that I needed to make this two books, just lifted an eyebrow when I reported my new dilemma. Suddenly, with a 400 page cut staring me in the face, I could see, for the first time, how to make Iron Lace into two books, which eventually became Iron Lace and Rising Tides, available as a reissue in late October. In fact many of the scenes I’d already cut, as well as a character who hadn’t seemed to matter, quickly found their real home. I’d had two books all along, only I just refused to see it.
Now I had two books of my heart. More than ten years later it’s a joy to know they are being republished for a new audience who has only recently found my books and wants more. The two novels take place between two historic hurricanes in Louisiana, and the storms mirror the upheaval in the south during the Civil Rights era. They were written, of course, before Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. For the record I lived in New Orleans while researching the novels, and while not unaware of its problems, was immersed in a love affair with the city that continues to this day.
After publication, the reviews were wonderful. Publishers Weekly called Iron Lace: “. . . intricate, seductive and a darned good read.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune called it a “page turner.”
I hope you find it a page turner, as well. When we write the book of our heart, that’s exactly the outcome we hope for.