Monday, December 4, 2006

My stories thus far...

In the possibly vain hope that anyone besides my husband, my MIL, and a handful of critique partners ever happens across this blog, I figured I should describe just what it is exactly that I write:

I started writing in third grade, when as part of a class project I wrote a longish short story, something like 20 single-spaced typed pages, about a group of children drawn into a magical realm with talking horses. Yes, I was reading the Chronicles of Narnia at the time. Yes, I was a stereotypical horse-mad girl. It was the most fun I'd ever had on an assignment, and it planted a seed in my mind that I'd like to do more of this.

All through junior high and high school, I wrote semi-autobiographical wish-fulfillment teen romances set in small Alabama towns. (I grew up outside Birmingham.) The heroines were just like me, only they were petite and had curly red or black hair instead of straight brown, blue or green eyes instead of brown, played clarinet, flute, or trumpet instead of saxophone, and they actually GOT the cute drummer, trumpet player, or wide receiver. I never got much beyond Chapter Three, maybe because I couldn't really imagine myself getting the required happy ending.

I didn't write in college, but during my senior year I got an idea for an epic fantasy series. A year or two after graduation, I started work. I filled notebooks with my worldbuilding notes and got a good ten chapters into Book One of my planned trilogy. I very well might have finished it, but somewhere along the way my politics shifted a lot and my theology shifted a little, and I found I no longer believed in my basic premise enough to continue writing it.

For a few years afterward I didn't write. I'd concluded that I just wasn't the type who finishes things, and that I therefore wasn't meant to be a writer. I got married, moved to Seattle, and started looking at graduate school, though I wasn't sure what I'd study or what I wanted to do with an advanced degree.

Then one evening my husband and saw the 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park. All the way home from the theater I talked Dylan's ears off with all the things I would've done differently if I'd been adapting MP for a modern audience. In the weeks that followed, I couldn't get the idea out of my head--how would I show a modern reader what might make a strong, intelligent woman act as meek and mild as Fanny Price, all without violating the historical realities of the times? It grew into a story in my head, a story with the same initial set-up as Mansfield Park--a poor relation goes to live with her wealthier and better-bred cousins--but I started changing things from there. Among other things, I made the Henry Crawford figure the hero, largely so the story would be different enough from the original to justify its existence, and I made the Edmund Bertram figure a cavalry officer rather than a clergyman, a random choice that would have major implications for the eventual direction of my writing. I thought about the idea so much that I eventually started writing it down to make it go away. I was sure I'd get three chapters in and quit, just like always, and that would be that.

Two years later I had my first manuscript, LUCY AND MR. WRIGHT. With the blind confidence of the newbie, I was sure that the publishing industry would be blown away by my brilliance and immediately offer me a three-book contract.

Bzzzt! Wrong. After assorted rejection letters and mediocre scores in RWA contests, I was forced to admit that maybe the story DID lack conflict, and that maybe I wasn't yet God's gift to writing. Rather than keep tweaking and rewriting it, I decided to bury it under the bed and work on my next project. It happened to be a sequel to LAMW, but one that I thought worked well as a standalone. I had a secondary character, Anna--my Mary Crawford figure, though she never resembled Austen's character in much beyond being my Henry figure's sister--who'd started out as a sort of amiable ditz. In those first drafts, my Edmund figure (Sebastian) was dull but well-intentioned, so I figured he and Anna deserved each other. But as the story evolved, Sebastian turned into an actual villain, cold and misogynistic with a streak of cruelty, and I realized that the one thing that Anna wasn't was stupid and fluffy--young, clueless, very spoiled and not a little vain, sure, but smart as can be, intensely passionate, and honorable to the core. IOW, heroine material. Since the plot fell apart without it, I made her marry Sebastian anyway, but I promised I'd kill him in a year or two and give her someone better.

During the time I was writing LAMW, I'd turned into a Peninsular War buff, so I decided that Anna would follow the drum, Sebastian would die in the war, and Anna would find a soldier worthy of her. For years I'd wanted to write a cross-class love story where the lower-class character didn't miraculously turn out to be the long-lost child of a lord in the last chapter, so I decided this would be that story. And so THE SERGEANT'S LADY, the manuscript my agent is currently shopping, was born. Here's how I describe it when pitching to editors:

Highborn heiress Anna Arrington cannot mourn the death of her cruel husband, a captain in Wellington’s army. All she wants is to leave the battlefields of Spain behind and return to her beloved family in Scotland.

But when her journey home turns perilous, Jack Wilcox, a common sergeant of uncommon courage and intelligence, rescues her from an unspeakable fate. Fighting their way to safety through dangerous, contested territory, they spend four days alone together--and discover a passion far deeper than either has known before. But Jack and Anna must return to a world that would never condone a match between a sergeant and a viscount’s daughter. For such an unlikely pair, building a life together will take a battle...


By the time I finished TSL, I decided I wanted to revisit LAMW, but the plot has changed so much that I consider it a completely different book (now titled THE INCONVENIENT BRIDE). I haven't recycled a single word of the previous version. It's still several months from being done, but since I'm a freak who actually enjoys writing pitches and blurbs, I already have one for it.

THE INCONVENIENT BRIDE is the story of Lucy Jones, an orphaned poor relation in 1809 England who wants to provide her younger brothers with a good start in life. But when the man she's always loved abandons her for a beautiful heiress, she must marry that heiress's brother or see her own brothers thrown into abject poverty.

So. Those are my stories so far. I'll try not to make a habit of lengthy posts, but sometimes when I get talking about my writing I just keep going and going and going...

1 comment:

Edie said...

Susan, I hope your agent finds a home for your mss. soon. Writing fiction isn't an easy road, but at least you have an agent who loves your writing. :)