Regardless how easy some authors make fiction-writing look, all of us struggle with something in every story.
Take “Making Peace,” my contribution to the new Prairie Rose Publications anthology Cowboy Cravings, for example. The hero, Bennett Collier, is the elder brother of Amon Collier, the hero from “The Big Uneasy” in Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride. The brothers’ relationship composed a significant subplot in “The Big Uneasy,” and “Making Peace” puts a period on the end of that relationship’s sentence. My challenge lay in ensuring both stories could a) stand alone as complete, satisfying reads in their own right, and b) be read in any order without one giving away too many of the other’s secrets. That second point was particularly vexing, since “The Big Uneasy” provided backstory for “Making Peace.” In situations like that, there’s a delicate balance between revealing too much and leaving readers confused by revealing too little.
I understand it’s common among authors to know their characters and stories so well that they think they’ve made things clear when they haven’t. Readers will have to let me know whether I accomplished my goal with “Making Peace.”
Turns out, all four of the authors who contributed to Cowboy Cravings faced at least one issue that proved challenging, but in the end each of us became stronger for having faced her demon head-on.
Here are the problems each author faced, along with her solution:
‘Hearts and Diamonds,’ by Cheryl Pierson
Revenge sets Nick Diamond after a bride, and nothing will stand in his way. But when that bride happens to be outspoken firebrand Liberty Blankenship, all bets are off. Anything can happen when Hearts and Diamonds collide!
I think for “Hearts and Diamonds,” the hardest thing was the love scene. In a short story, it’s really tough to create a love scene that “moves along” rapidly with people who don’t really know one another. So I gave Nick and Libby a “sort of” shared background—they remember one another, but he’s several years older than she is, and they’ve lost track of one another.
Something else that helped the love scene was the fact that she was marrying someone she wasn’t in love with—and Nick reminds her of that. She lets him know, even though she might not have been in love with [villain] Carlton Ridgeway, at least she could have hoped for respectability. That plants a seed in his mind...this might just work. Because, Nick had planned to give her that, too, all along—unless she wanted an annulment.
Because a short story is so limited on word count, the love scene I wrote was one that got the point across heatedly, without going into the details of how each part of the sex they had was accomplished. And, because they share this wedding night, when the next crisis happens, they’re already emotionally closer than they’ve been when we left them the night before in their ...ahem...passion. So it was finding the right way to move the relationship along without having it seem unrealistic that was the most difficult thing for me with this story.
‘Starr Bright,’ by Celia Yeary
A stubborn rancher, a Spanish beauty...and the Texas summer heats up.
Any time we take a character—or characters—from previous stories, we try to keep them as true to their original personality and looks as possible. This shouldn’t be too difficult, unless, in my case, I used two characters who were not in the same story. In “Starr Bright,” I used Starr Hidalgo in all her glory, but I paired her with Conrad Taylor who was a character in another novel, another decade. In my mind, these two should be paired, no matter what. Since dates aren’t generally added to novels, I knew no one would ever figure that out...or care.
‘Lily and Mesquite Joe,’ by Kristy McCaffrey
Lily Kingston has long loved Mesquite Joe Riordan. Facing the truth of his past will test her resolve, but only her stubbornness can win his heart.
I wrote “Lily and Mesquite Joe” well over two years ago as a submission for Harlequin Historicals Undone, the online short-story branch of this popular series of books. It was rejected due to lack of characterization. Besides being bummed about the reject, I was completely stumped. I honestly couldn't figure out how to fix the story because I wasn’t really sure where the problem lay. So, I set it aside and let it collect cyber-dust.
When the submission call for Cowboy Cravings came, that story started waving its hand at me—pick me, pick me. Prairie Rose Publications welcomed it into the family, and kind-hearted editor Cheryl Pierson gave it a once-over, then a twice-over, and, I believe, a thrice-over. My hero, Joe Riordan, needed work, and with Cheryl’s guidance I began to see the issues that plagued the tale.
In the end, Cheryl helped me redeem Joe, and when that finally happened I had that “aha” moment of why the story was denied so long ago. So, while rejection naturally makes all of us writers run crying to our beds with a box of doughnuts, it helps to remember that finding the right home for a story is important for the health and well-being of that creation. We want to find a place where our writing can flourish. Lily and Mesquite Joe found their way into the world at last.
So… Here are my questions:
Authors, have you ever encountered a challenge that dogged you all the way through a story? How did you resolve the issue?
Readers, have you ever encountered a story in which you recognized an author’s struggle? Maybe something just didn’t seem quite “right.” How did that affect your relationship with the story?
As a thank you for taking the time to comment today, I’ll give away an e-copy of the winner’s choice from among the four Prairie Rose summer anthologies: Lassoing a Bride, Lassoing a Groom, Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride, or Cowboy Cravings. No matter which you choose, I promise you’ll get some excellent summer reading by some of the best western historical romance authors writing today. (Why yes, thank you, I am the very epitome of modesty. <grin>) Be sure to leave a contact method in your answer!
Craving a cowboy on these hot summer nights? Here are four stories that are sure to turn up the heat! If you love tall, dark, and handsome cowboys with a touch of danger thrown in, and the ladies that show them they've met their match, Cowboy Cravings is a must-have. Fast guns, smooth action, and hot love sizzle in one delicious recipe for these spicy stories. The summer has never been hotter in the Old West than it is when you have to satisfy those COWBOY CRAVINGS!