The past months have been a whirlwind for all of us. We’re getting back to normal, but it’s that ‘new’ normal we’ve been warned about for the past two years, where every cold is a reason for a COVID test and every sneeze is suspect. We have a new Congress, and God knows what that will bring. The rules are changing fast, and it’s pretty scary.
I love writing, but I honestly haven’t written much since the pandemic started. I’d try, but I’d look at those manuscripts that were so beat-up already, filled with edits and comments in purple and red ink . . . To be truthful, I didn’t even remember which copy was the last one I’d worked on. I didn’t want to write more about Erin and Kai, because there was no way to know if I’d ever get to travel to England to do locale research. I didn’t want to write about Nicky because, well, there are lots of reasons why. I know a lot of people found time and space during the pandemic to focus on creative endeavors, but I wasn’t one of them.
But this summer a couple of things happened. The first is that I finally admitted I had a problem, and sought help. It’s hard to write those words, honestly – it was scary to admit, and scary to try to find someone who would help. But I reached a point shortly after the fall of Roe where I couldn’t go on. I will be eternally grateful to the doctor who met me via Zoom on the Fourth of July. I’ve been on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications since, and those – along with a few other things – have cleared my mind tremendously. I’m not 100%, but in this world, who is? I’m better. And that’s what matters.
The other thing that happened, about two months after that, was that I started writing a new novel.
I watched an inordinate amount of the Hallmark Channel over the summer. And for some reason I ended up on their publisher’s webpage and saw that they were going to have open submissions in October. At that time, I had two months, and something lit up inside me. I could do that! I’d seen how many Hallmark movies in the past three months? I knew the formula! I knew they wanted sweet romance! I knew I could do it!
And so . . . I started.
A very long time ago, I drafted a novel which featured two protagonists that I’ve never let go of, not really. I loved them both, and though that novel will never see the light of day, those characters needed to. The basic premise of that novel could be tweaked, and a major storyline could be cut, and I had a feeling that they would work well in this new project.
Well, they’re not quite the same two characters I fell in love with. But that’s okay. And the novel’s not quite drafted, which is also okay because Hallmark Publishing pushed that open submission back to November, and then indefinitely suspended it. But it got me back to writing. I lifted probably 100 pages from the old novel to ‘tweak’ for this one, and ended up using almost none of it. There are a couple of scenes that are similar, but heavily rewritten. In truth, this is nothing like the original – and almost every word of it is brand-new.
But the most amazing part of this journey has been that heady rush, that all-encompassing, soul-lifting, head-in-the-clouds first love that you get when you start a new novel. I haven’t felt that in years! I found myself thinking about Alex and Dana all the time. I found myself imagining scenes at odd times, having to find envelopes and scraps of paper on which to write them down. I found myself listening to them, figuring out their new backstories, their family dynamics, the conflicts that will drive them apart in Act 3 so they can be back together for their Happily Ever After.
I had to do research. One small idea – is there a fountain in Central Park where you can make a wish? – became, in one night, the framework on which to hang the narrative. Reading about other towns on Virginia’s Eastern Shore gave more depth and shape to the fictional town I had created.
I am still writing – Act 3 is giving me fits, but mostly because I have to murder some darlings – but in the space of four months, I’ve gone from nothing to a 102,000 word sweet romance. Actually, the sweet romance part is a little hard for me; I like to write ‘closed door’ romances, and Alex and Dana kind of wish I would . . . But there’s something rather freeing about knowing how your novel has to end up.
Romances are formulaic. There are certain elements that must be included. One of those is the happily ever after, or the happily for now. Endings can be hard for us all, and knowing that your characters must end up together with the promise of a bright future is so nice. It gives you carte blanche to focus on the rest of the book. It gives you wide range for creating conflict, and then figuring out how to resolve it. In fact, the most difficult part of writing this book has been that Alex and Dana dislike cooperating with me on that conflict thing! Perhaps it’s because I’ve known them for so long. Perhaps my conflict isn’t deep enough. In fact, as I struggle with the bridge from Act 2 to Act 3, I’m convinced that’s exactly my problem. But I can fix that. And I will.
I’m just having fun with this one, for now. I’m not going to overthink it. I’m not going to over-complicate it. At least, I hope not! I just want to see what happens, and go from there. I already have an idea for a sequel, focusing on Alex’s great-grandmother.
Romance is a departure for me, and it’s not easy. In fact, there’s quite a challenge to it. But that’s also part of what I like. There are rules to follow, and if you follow them right, you might be rewarded with something people will love. That’s a radical departure for me; normally I write things that may never be finished because of subject matter or inability to do the research. But this? This has been a great way to get back into writing.