I took ten years to crack a contract with Harlequin Mills & Boon and along the way I had my share of rejections. My current release, ‘THE NURSE’S LONGED-FOR FAMILY’ (set on the Great Ocean Road) was first written in 1996/7, when I submitted it as “Healing Hearts.”
Here is part of the rejection letter I received.
Dear Ms Lowe,
“I regret to tell you that your submission is not suitable for publication (OUCH!) Unfortunately it did not achieve the high standards that we require. (Double ouch)…..I feel you should not take these comments as an invitation to revise. I believe it would be more beneficial to leave this story for now and come up with a new idea.”
SO I stuck it in the bottom drawer with a LOT of grumbling.
In 2005 I hauled out the book and rewrote it . The premise was the same, the conflict the same, my characters were almost the same but I wrote the hero my way.
It sold with no revisions and I made my editor cry.
Why? Cos I had learned heaps. Over the next week or so I want to share with you some of the things that made my original story idea come to life.
1. Weaving in the back story. I learned not to info dump! I learned to weave the back story in during the first few chapters with a sentence here and a sentence there. I brought the first meeting forward to page two instead of page four. I think by reading the two examples you can see and feel the difference.
Here is how the book opened in 1997.
Peace at last! Jess sank exhausted onto the bench, stretched her legs out into the sand and closed her eyes. Drawing in a deep breath, she smelled the salt mingling with pine and let her senses take her away from all the pain and confusion the recent months had brought.
The sudden and unexpected deaths of her sister and brother-in-law had dramatcially altered the life and lifestyle she knew. She’d come back to Roseport at the age of tweny-six to be guardian to her now oprhaned, twenty-two month old newphew, Woody.
She’d left behind a tattered relationship and shattered dreams.
Her boyfriend’s refusal to accept Woody hurt her deeply, and in odd moments she still re-played his rejection over and over in her head. “A family life is not what I want. I don’t have time to be a parent and I’m not interested.”
He’d used Woody as a welcome excuse to end the relationship. Robert hadn’t said he didn’t love her, but she’d got the message loud and clear. So, now she was both mother and father to Woody. And to top it off, her new job as a community health nurse proved more challenging than she’d anticipated.
And here is how the book starts now.
Jess Henderson gave a final wave, as Doctor David Parkinson’s four-wheel-drive turned the corner. A selfish sadness tightened in a circle around her heart as the vehicle and the great family inside it, disappeared from view.
She faced three months without the warm and loving presence of the family she’d come to love.
David and Erica had given her a job as their practice nurse at the Community Health Centre when her sister’s death had forced her to come to Roseport two short months ago. But more than a job, they’d welcomed her, and helped her adjust to her new role as a mother to her nephew, Woody.
She sighed. Three months without their support.
Three months working with a doctor she’d only met half an hour ago. A doctor who didn’t look comfortable in his new surroundings. In fact, he didn’t look happy at all.
He looked to be a totally different personality from David. But first impressions could be wrong. During their brief introductions she got the gut feeling he didn’t really want to be in Roseport. He seemed distant and a bit aloof.
The sooner she got to know him, the better she would feel. And if that involved making polite conversation, then so be it.
She took a quick sideways glance at Doctor Alexander Fitzwilliam. The man David called Alex. He looked out of place in the seaside town wearing an impeccable designer suit. At six foot one, he towered over her. Usually her five foot four inches felt tall enough, but not today. His presence seemed to dwarf her and she was very aware of him.
His dark, tailored suit accentuated his broad shoulders and the jacket fell open to reveal a flat, taut stomach. Pleated trousers clung to narrow hips, emphasising his long legs. The soft material teasingly hinted at what lay underneath.
Jess fleetingly wondered what he would look like in Roseport’s signature dress code of shorts. Or in a wet suit, slick with water. Her breath caught in her throat.
So which opening do you prefer and why?
Donald Maas has been heard to say ‘start your book at page 20’, meaning, drop the back story. It slows the book down. Your reader doesn’t need to know it all immediately. Let them work for it but give them enough to keep them hooked.
Later this week I’ll talk about Alex and how I changed him for the better.