Six years ago on a dark and stormy night, I started writing a dark and stormy memoir.
Can you believe it? What was I, meshuganah?
Do you know when you write one of those you have to write about other people, not just yourself? And when you write about yourself and those other people you can’t pick and choose what you share? And you have to 100% honest? Well, it’s true (just ask James Frey). So, since I wasn’t willing to do that in that way, the memoir idea tanked and the pages of my 72K word manuscript called Every Other Weekend went into the never-to-be-seen file.
What did I learn from abandoning that project? That I liked writing long form. I was a journalist, PR writer, columnist and essayist. And now I wanted to write something with — you guessed it — chapters! A few brave writer-friends suggested I try fiction. I laughed. I slapped my thigh. I couldn’t even make up bedtime stories when my kids were little. I fancied myself without much imagination. But, I wanted to write so I clicked on my discarded manuscript and changed the names. Not enough. I refocused the plot. There ya go, fiction! Ok, it was roman à clef, or, thinly veiled fiction. I figured if The Devil Wears Prada was a smash and no one was sued, I’d just call mine The Devil Wore Spandex and we’d be in business. No such luck. I was so caught up in matching up people and things and actions and reactions from the fiction back to reality that it made me feel like I was in a Chinese restaurant choosing dinner components from Column A and Column B.
Slowly I abandoned 99% of the traces of truth from the manuscript as I had best writer epiphany of my life: Just make it all up.
And so I did.
In the interim, as I deleted, revised and rewrote, the middle of the book became the beginning and the beginning became a memory. The end of the book became the middle which left me without a middle or an end. It also left me without a title, with characters who didn’t fit their names and plot points that made no sense.
Making things up is good. Making no sense is bad.
When I finally typed The End on a real live, women’s fiction manuscript it was called Starting From Scratch and the main character’s name was Tracy and she opened a bakery as a way to start a new life (get it? from scratch? ha!). She was pretty much a goody-two-shoes with a spatula.
Gag. Me. Now. (And use the spatula.)
Then, the cliché police knocked on my door. The reality-check police were close behind.
I rewrote the novel. Tracy became Evie (I pronounce it Eh-vie, short e.) Her best friend Bev became Beth because face it, you can’t have an Ev and a Bev. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t. Evie became a math teacher instead of a cupcake baker although she does bake cookies for her kids (I have sweet tooth, what can I say?) I can’t do math or bake so they were both fun characteristics to write (also Evie no longer teaches math). The main character’s motives for change became a little more self-centered, realistic, palpable. I typed The End a few more times before I queried and once more before I found my agent. Then I typed it again and again. And again. The story which started as a memoir and evolved into full-blown fiction bears very little resemblance to the book I started about six years ago or the one I finished two years after that. It was always a matter of making the book as good as it could be.
Why am I reminiscing on the origin of the novel that became THE GLASS WIVES? That same debut novel that was published on Tuesday by St. Martin’s Griffin and can be found everywhere books are sold? Because I’m working on a new novel. One I feel is solid as is and has potential to be even better. One that I want to also find its way to bookstore ereader shelves. I want to remember the trajectory of the first journey—take the lessons I’ve learned and impart them to myself so no one else has to do it for me.
What have I learned from the journey of my women’s fiction manuscript to published debut novel? That I can’t reluctant to write the story I have in me right now at this minute and then allow it to change. Or, make it change. Make it different. Make it up. Don’t play it safe. Change names, arcs, plots and titles until it fits and flows. To be stubborn and persistent. To reach high — women’s fiction readers deserve books that read true.
I deserve it too—all of it. That’s another lesson I’ve learned. All because of a misbegotten memoir, a little Spandex (don’t ask), and a lot of hard work.
What was the path of your latest book or work-in-progress? Was it stormy or smooth?