So, check and deadline looming, I sat down and attempted to actually produce a novel.
Something I wasn’t exactly sure how to do.
Here’s the gist of the story: America’s favorite TV dating expert Darby Vaughn finds out her husband Will is cheating on her, live on national television. She throws up and passes out, and becomes the national laughingstock and fodder for late night comedians.
Darby has become particularly close to her stepchildren Lilly & Aidan, who are her husband Will’s children from his former marriage. Her divorce attorney Holt Gregory informs her she doesn’t have a chance of getting custody of her children unless she gets back together with Will.
As I was writing the story, I needed to give Darby a really good reason to resist a relationship with Holt. (Otherwise, there would be no love triangle, just one philandering husband left in the dust on page 72.) Holt is a tall, funny, rakishly yummy, well-mannered, brilliant attorney with a southern accent and Patrick Dempsey hair. No sane woman would ever walk away from that. I had to give him some flaws, some serious flaws.
So, I did what any inexperienced novelist would do. I tried to kill him off.
I gave Holt a fatal, meticulously researched heart condition. And poor Darby, who had already had so much loss in her life, just couldn’t bear to play nursemaid to a dead man walking.
My editor, Allison Dickens, called me as she emailed my editorial letter.
“I love the book,” she said, “but you can’t kill Holt.”
“But his illness is the thing that’s keeping them apart!” I argued, freshly fortified with all of the Novel Writing For Morons/How to Write a Novel books I’d devoured in the previous eight weeks.
“I think you need to find another thing,” she told me. “Darby has been through a lot, this feels like the kitchen sink.”
I thought about it that afternoon and that night, and I realized she was right. I needed to find a more interesting (and frankly, less Movie of the Week) reason why Holt and Darby shouldn’t be together.
(Also, I kept flashing back to my mother, who called me after she read the manuscript wailing, “Why, why, WHY, does Holt have to die? Isn’t there an operation? Some miracle cure? A Czechoslovakian pacemaker? Something???”)
I was very aware of my inexperience with writing a novel, and had promised myself I would give careful consideration to any editorial suggestions, even if my immediate impulse was to dig in, throw my computer out the window or hit the drive-thru at Dunkin Donuts for an emergency case of jelly donuts.
I wanted for Fifteen Minutes to be realistic, unpredictable, cheese-free. I wanted it to be good.
That afternoon I got to work on saving Holt.
You’ll be happy to hear that his heart is perfectly fine. As is my mother’s.