June brings the debut of The House Guests on the 29th, so for all my blogs this month I’m giving you glimpses into the book, even before you have the opportunity to read it.
The first week I talked about the setting, Tarpon Springs, Florida, and my personal reasons for setting the book there. I also gave you a peek at Yiayia’s Kouzina (Grandmother’s Kitchen), the Greek restaurant owned and run by Cassie’s (one of the two main character’s) grandmother. I shared my own recipe for moussaka, along with a link to a pastitsio recipe from Ina Garten, and a simple step-by-step for making horiatiki salad, which I ate everywhere on a trip to Greece.
For my second week I talked about the way I cut 20,000 words from the novel once it was completed. I didn’t cut because I was asked to–although most likely I would have been–but because I knew it was necessary. Along the way, I introduced you to all the weeds in the garden of our summer cottage and how similar weeding and editing are. I’m happy to say our summer garden is looking much better, although there are still days of weeding ahead of us. You’ll have to decide on your own if I “weeded” the book enough to suit your tastes. I hope so.
This week was special to me. I put everything on hold Sunday through Tuesday as my brainstorming friends came to stay once again. I’ve blogged about this process before. You can read back over those posts here. I will say that this year we were so over-the-moon delighted to be together after our forced Covid hiatus last summer, that a large part of what we did was simply catch up and talk about how glad we were to be together again. And how lucky.
In the photo we’re celebrating our time together with dinner at a local (windy) Italian restaurant. I can’t say enough good things about their cauliflower pizza crust.
Today I thought you’d enjoy a look back through time and the way past brainstorming sessions relate to The House Guests.
I introduced my ideas for The House Guests in June 2018’s brainstorming sessions and began to transcribe our notes from that session in early 2019. At that point the book was titled Lies and Other Mercies, suggested in one of our sessions by Casey Daniels, and remained that title until well into its publishing life when a member of the Mira marketing team pointed out that the title sounded like it belonged to a short story collection.
Whether that was really true or not, the decision was made to change it. And while I loved the original title, I didn’t want readers to be confused. My editor and I batted ideas around, but the final title was her idea. I loved Lies and Other Mercies, but I liked The Houses Guests immediately, too. Sometimes it’s best not to argue. (Advice from someone who’s been published since 1985.)
The title was only one of the changes. Here are some elements I found in my brainstorming notes from 2018 and 2019. I can’t compare my original ideas and the finished book too closely since you haven’t read it, but here are a few teasers.
Mark’s name originally was Nick. And for a while, Mark was the character from Tarpon Springs, not Cassie. Cassie was from a prestigious New York family, but her father, a professor in medical school, spent his life paying off his family’s debts. In that version after she marries Mark (then called Nick), Mark is the one who invites Amber and Will to live with them until their future is secure. Savannah is not Cassie’s stepdaughter, but their daughter together.
Looking at the names I originally chose was fun. When I decided not to call the husband Nick, apparently I went through a long list of names: Royce, Trent, Tad, Scott, Paul, Todd, Kyle, Mark, Damon, Brent, Ian. Obviously Mark won, but I can’t tell you why because I don’t know. These things are mysterious, even to me.
Cassie was Courtney (although apparently I considered Camille, Celeste and Carrie, too) until her entire ethnic background changed and I fell in love with Cassie for her.
While Mark/Nick changed enormously as the story changed and changed again from one brainstorming session to the next, a year later, Roxanne underwent huge changes, too. Who’s Roxanne? Originally Roxanne–now Cassie’s aunt and a colorful, wise but frustrated chef at Yiayia’s Kouzina–was Mark’s sister with mental health issues–or so they believed–but in reality a renowned artist and benefactor at Philoxenia House for homeless women.
The original Roxanne really had no good reason to be in the story, but she would have been great fun to write about. So “new” Roxanne had to be quirky and fun, too, even if she’s completely different. And she had to be content with a back seat in the story.
Amber was always Amber, but not a server in a restaurant. In original versions of the story, Amber cleaned Mark’s office building, where she was able to discover some very useful information about him and the things he was into.
There was no Yiayia and no Greek restaurant. I am so relieved that changed.
You’ll understand how and why Amber’s original plot was jettisoned once you read The (real) House Guests. But let me also say that her story is far less exciting in the original versions, and story suspense is entirely provided by other plot lines and characters. In the original version Amber is more or less a tool to move the rest of the story along.
The very most helpful thing my wonderful brainstorming friends did for me? After I wrote my first synopsis and sent it to my editor, I tried, in our 2019 session, to explain the story to them. Five minutes into it Casey pointed out that it was a mess. Since both my editor and I had already seen that, I couldn’t have been more grateful to hear it again. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. The entire heart of the story was missing. And between that session and many, many hours of beating my head against the wall at home alone afterwards, The (real) House Guests finally emerged.
I’ve been lucky to have talented, insightful friends to bat around story ideas with me. All of us love the process, and all of us know that whatever we learn from it will change enormously as our books are written. Sometimes what seem like our best ideas end up on the cutting room floor because they don’t work or take the story somewhere the author doesn’t want it to go. And oddly enough, more than once an idea I discarded immediately actually ended up in my book anyway. Because with time and thought, I saw the wisdom.
The House Guests is available for preorder and will be at your favorite bookstore soon. Feel free to ask about changes I made once you’re read it. They will be fun to discuss.