Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Books Under the Bed

Liz Flaherty

The Growing Season was my first completed manuscript. It had more points of view in it than you could shake a stick at and enough characters to populate a small town. It was followed by Sycamore Summer and The Boarding House, and there may have been one or two others in there. There were more Chapter Ones than I can even begin to remember, stories with beginnings and endings, but no middles to hold them up. These are my under-the-bed manuscripts, largely gone because they were saved on discs that became corrupt. There may be paper copies somewhere, but I doubt it.

And that’s okay. The things I gleaned from them—teenagers as people instead of caricatures, settings as characters unto themselves, the entire backstory for One More Summer, a pastor named Deac Rivers—will live on as long as my published books can be found. The parts that shouldn’t live on―head-hopping extraordinaire, omniscient POV, telling instead of showing, every stereotype known to publishing—well, they don’t live on. Sometimes corrupted files are a good thing.


I know some writers’ first stories end up as their first books and although I’m happy for those talented authors, I’m glad I’m not one of them. In the first place, because I think maybe (I’m whispering here) I don’t have the kind of talent that was going to shine right out of the gate, and in the second place because those first unpublished and mostly forgotten stories gave birth to my writing voice.

My next Heartwarming, The Happiness Pact (new title), will be a December release. I’m so excited, and I think maybe there’s a scene idea in it that may have come from the 1990s. I’m not sure about that, though—let me check under the bed.

Helen DePrima

I’ll lay good money that most writers have “a book under the bed”, or a manuscript on a closet shelf, an early project that somehow never saw the light of day. I recently found a short story I wrote more than forty years ago, before moving from Colorado to New Hampshire. Now it read as a pretty amateurish effort, but there’s a seed of something that might become a novel, the kind of romance I’ve learned to write.

The first book in which I wrote The End was a mystery set in the world of Thoroughbred racing, a milieu I grew up with in Louisville. I was damn proud of it and sent off queries in all high hopes to agents. Lots of agents. Some responded with form letters: Thanks for your submission but it’s not quite right for us. One sent a mimeographed rejection not much bigger than the slip in a fortune cookie – who the heck uses mimeograph these days? A few offered specific comments – love your voice and your characters, but the plot is weak. One agent at a high-end writers’ conference looked over her half-glasses and said, “Dick Francis – who cares?” In front of 200 attendees.

Deep sigh, under the bed it went. Now I may resurrect those characters and that locale, but with a better understanding of what might comprise a stronger plot. I hope.

The other end of the spectrum is the book that remains unwritten, the idea that buzzes like a pesky mosquito in a darkened bedroom, impossible to ignore. The Maine coast (a character in its own right) a young widow, a surly lobsterman with a murky past . . . Let the action begin, one of these days.

Don't miss Helen's latest Heartwarming, Luke's Ride, which thankfully never went under her bed!

The time has come for him to cowboy up… 

He's spent fifteen years at the rodeo, protecting riders when they hit the dirt. But what exactly is a bullfighter after a bull takes him down in the arena and lands him in a wheelchair? That's what Luke Cameron's still struggling to figure out. And if Katie Garrison, in the middle of a controversial divorce, can help him find a new kind of life…well…he's not one to turn her down! But she's still a married woman and her husband isn't going to let her go without a fight. Besides, Luke may never walk again. What kind of life can he give a woman like Katie?

42 comments:

  1. I don't have any 'old' books under the bed. They call a bottom file drawer home, instead. LOVE your stories about early titles, ladies, but I can't wait to read your most recent releases! Have a wonderful week's end and weekend!

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    1. Thank you! I have a file drawer, too--and a couple of binders.

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    2. Good morning and welcome! I've found early efforts in boxes, drawers, and a 1940's suitcase belonging to my mother.

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  2. Great post, ladies! The first book I ever wrote did end up being published. Of course it went through major stages of revisions. :)
    I'm looking forward to reading your recent releases!

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    1. I'm happy for you...and can't imagine it! :-) I still get some pretty major revisions, although I think they seem more major to me than to my editor.

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    2. Hi Jill! I've heard first books being winners right out of the starting gate. And mothers whose newborns slept through the night with no 2 AM feedings. Sigh -- not for us mere mortals. Good for you!

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  3. Liz, I love the titles of your under-the-bed books. I'd want to read them! As for your current and upcoming releases, ladies, I'm with Loree and Jill, and look forward to reading them!

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    1. Thank you, Kate. A friend actually used the first title once it became apparent I wasn't going to.

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    2. Hi Kate! The title of my stillborn short story was A Hundred Fires, taken from my heroine's name, Pilar Cienfuegos, not a rare surname in the Southwest. I thought it terribly clever and may still use it someday.

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    3. Oh, I love that title, too, Helen! I might have to come to you ladies for my next title!!

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  4. I have a binder and cupboard in my office with a couple of paper boxes full of false starts, and no doubt, one or two corrupt disks in a drawer. But some ideas come back and stick around waiting for development... I'm glad THE HAPPINESS PACT is coming along! It's a great one! Hugs!

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    1. Hi Nan -- funny how some ideas refuse to die. I dreamed once about a man and woman carrying a baby stepping off a dirt track to disappear into the jungle. I have no clue how they got there or where they're going, but they haunt me. And another about a car going off a winding road into an icy lake during a snowstorm. Who's in the car? Will it be found? Probably not till the spring thaw. I probably don't have the years left to explore all the twisting turns of my imagination.

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    2. The ones that keep coming back to mind, whether you have them written or not--I think they're relaying a message that they need to be dealt with.

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  5. I graduated in 1988, and I still have a binder full of my short stories and poetry from high school. I took Creative Writing in 11th grade, and it was by far my favorite class. I won first place in a short story writing contest that year, and I still have the handmade ribbon the teacher gave me with it's gaudy blue bow and crepe paper streamers. LOL. I cherish that thing. I reread the story not too long ago, and it is definitely one that I will keep under the bed forever, but I'm thankful for it because it was a stepping stone to where I am today. Great post, Liz and Helen!

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    1. Hi Stephanie -- like you, writing classes were my favorites in high school. I took both creative writing and journalism, was co-editor of the school newspaper and the literary journal which published writing and drawings. For sure, those early projects set my feet on the path, but it's taken me fifty years to return to serious goals. I love telling people who wish to write that it's never too late.

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    2. Hi, Stephanie. I don't think I have my high school stuff, but I was 48 when I sold my first book, 53 when I sold my second. So, no, never too late. The life I lived between high school and publication just made the writing richer and fuller than it might have been otherwise.

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  6. Liz and Helen, you both have great book titles! Love them. And, seriously, we authors should establish a National Book-Under-the-Bed day lol ;).

    Liz, looking forward to being Dec release sisters with you, Catherine and Beth!

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    1. I can't wait, Rula! And yes, it should have a day to itself, shouldn't it?

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  7. This is such an excellent post, ladies! I am smiling from ear to ear. I have a few books that should be buried deep, deep beneath the ground under my bed. Not long ago, I picked up my first "historical" that I wrote as a teenager (hand written in a notebook) and cringed while I read a few pages. Let's just say that I was not afraid of the words "simply, "perchance" or "mayhaps." Yikes. Lol. But I do have some of those ideas that refuse to die. Now, if only I can figure out a way to get them on the page..?

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    1. And there's the joy...getting them on the page!

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    2. Gee, Carol - you really take me back! I wrote a story set in Boston at the beginning of the Revolution and used every cliche ever imagined. That one can stay buried; I don't have the patience for the research necessary for a credible historical.

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  8. I have more than one book under the bed.

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    1. Most of us do, don't we? It's okay--that's how we learned.

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    2. I call them training exercises.

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  9. While my first two books will never see the light of day, the characters live on in my first series. Both of your books sound so good!

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    1. Thanks, Pat, and some of my characters live on, too.

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    2. Hi Pat -- funny how characteristics if not actual characters show up in later works.

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  10. I have a collection of buried stories, and half-stories, and ideas as well. Some of them might get revised someday, most never will. Great post.

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    1. I seem to be harboring fewer relics than some of you, probably because my writing virus lay dormant for so many years.

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    2. Thanks, Beth. I'll bet you'll use pieces of them, whether you intend to or not. They stay in your heart for a reason, after all.

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  11. I have four, not under the bed, but on corrupted discs which to my embarrassment, I labeled the files as chapter 1, chapter 2, and no other marker. Worse, when I rewrote I labeled the new files as chapter 1, chapter, and so forth. I've no clue which are raw, reworked, etc. LOL, my first novel was a Star Trek (yes, I love Sci). It was 300+ pages when I stopped. Oh, that's single-spaced because I knew nothing.
    I cut my teeth on those mistakes.

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    1. Boy, can I relate to your experience! I had so many revised versions save I didn't know where to start correcting the mess. I finally started put the time and date at the top of the first page so I'd know I wasn't creating a parallel universe.

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    2. Add another relater. I have so many files labeled Chapter 1. The bad part is, I'm still doing it. Apparently the teeth aren't cut yet.

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  12. My first amateurish novel was a 600 page family saga. The first editor I pitched it to said, "Two strikes - too long, family sagas are out." I guess she figured I was close to three strikes because I was definitely out. Those first attempts helped us learn, but oh, what a lesson.
    Cynthia

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    1. Although your book might well have worked as a series. Readers seem to love following the fortunes of the Cameron's, father and sons, in Cameron's Pride.

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    2. I love family sagas! I remember being very reluctant to leave me people, so I wrote a few books longer than they needed to be, but very few, as my natural inclination is to write short.

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  13. I haven't thought about the paper copy of that book in a long time, but I've moved it six times, at least. Now the 2nd and 3rd I still like enough to have waiting in the wings to revise. I can certainly see the progression from 1 to 3, though. That was heartening, and I guess, just part of the "novelist's apprenticeship program!" Great post...a trip down memory lane for many of us.

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    1. Lol. Oh, gosh, it just occurred to me that if we ever move (we've lived here 40 years), I might find some of those long-and-better-lost mss. Maybe, like Stephanie, I'll even find my high school stuff. Although I hope not.

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  14. One beauty of the computer age is that we no longer have reams of paper hanging around, all the revisions and rewrites of revisions.

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  15. Oh my! I have so many under the bed stories! Except they are in an old box and were typed with an old ribbon-style typewriter. I laugh when I reread them now because I thought I was writing magnificent long stories and they are literally 20 pages. Talk about a short story, hee hee. But one of them did get rewritten and became my debut book, so there's some value to them after all.

    Thanks for making me walk down memory lane today. :)

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