The making of my first (but not really first) novel: Before I Go

Tequila: the key to novel writing (or at least dealing with rejection)
Tequila: the key to novel writing (or at least dealing with rejection)

Hi! I’m Colleen, the first 2015 Deb to kick off this new season on the Ball. And I have a confession: Before I Go is not my first novel. (Whoa. I know — you weren’t expecting that kind of bombshell on a Monday morning. My apologies.)

My first novel is languishing on my Mac desktop, never to be read by the general public. And that’s a good thing. Although, it didn’t feel like a good thing three years ago, when the rejections from publishing houses were piling up.

This book, my real, it’s-going-to-be-published first novel started with a kernel of an idea while I was writing the book-that-will-never-see-the-light-of-day. As a freelance magazine writer, I got an assignment a few years ago to interview a 27-year-old woman who was dying of metastasized breast cancer. It was a heavy interview for many obvious reasons, but it affected me even more deeply when I realized we were close to the same age and we were both newlyweds. After we spoke, I just couldn’t shake it. I spent a lot of days (and a lot of sleepless nights) wondering what I would do if I were in her shoes. And because I was newly married, I kept wondering what my husband Fred would do if I died. Would he remarry? What would she be like? And then I wondered — what would I want his next wife to be like?

And just like that, I had an idea. What if I wrote a book about a young woman who was dying and decided to find her own replacement — a new wife for her husband so she could be sure he was taken care of after her death?

I immediately wrote four pages — the scene where she decides she needs to find a wife for her husband — and then put it away for two years, while I finished the book I was working on.

Long story short, that book didn’t sell, I cried and drank a lot of tequila, and then pulled myself up by the bootstraps and opened that four-page document I had written so long ago. Six months later, I had a book, a publishing deal — and a lot of gratitude that my first book wasn’t really my first book.

And in the year and a half that I’ve been (not so) patiently waiting to introduce Before I Go to the world, I’ve met a lot of really amazing authors who all seem to have a manuscript that ended up not being their first book either. So maybe that’s the secret for all you aspiring novelists. Write a book. Put it away. And then write the book you were meant to write.

Thanks for tuning in on our first week as Debs! We’re excited to share our books and our journey over the next year with all of you.

Author: Colleen Oakley

Colleen Oakley is the author of BEFORE I GO (Simon & Schuster/Gallery, Jan. 2015), a love story. A former editor for Marie Claire and Women's Health & Fitness, she's now an Atlanta-based freelance writer. Find out more at

14 Replies to “The making of my first (but not really first) novel: Before I Go”

  1. Hellllooooo, Colleen and Class of 2015! Welcome. Have to say, so strange to see you on the masthead , but so fun too.

    Colleen, your novel sounds wonderful. I have a drawer novel too. SOO much different from my debut novel.

  2. Yay Colleen! So excited to read this year’s debs debut posts — and to be part of the team with you.

    I’ve got a few drawer novels clawing at the wood in my desk, but I’m not about to let them out!

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