Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Stuff Happens

While transferring hard copy files from the dinky cabinet to the new, shiny monster occupying the corner of my office, I came across a draft pitch sheet with some old novel ideas, like this one:

Hell on Wheels

Paraplegic Mike Anderson becomes stranded during a vacation rafting expedition for the handicapped on the American River. His only help is a newly-blind woman, former neurosurgeon Rebecca Stark. [Stuff happens, they survive.] Back in Florida Keys, Mike helps Becca accept the disability that ended her career, while she secretly arranges for an operation that may restore the use of Mike's legs [twist: Becca's eyesight is restored, Mike remains in the chair.] ECD: mid-2002

In those days I always took a pitch sheet with me to any publisher event (something I made a habit of after being cornered by Gina Centrello at a national conference and going completely blank-headed.) At the bottom of this particular sheet I wrote: "Polish, keep in purse." That came in handy later, when my editor took me out to dinner and asked me what else I was thinking about writing next. I made her laugh when I took the polished version out of my purse and simply handed it to her.

Hell on Wheels was my favorite of the eight premises I pitched to her that night. I had wanted to do a book featuring Mike Anderson, a wheelchair-bound secondary character from my first romance, Paradise Island. I was advised by a RWA friend that the idea it would not fly because both of the main characters were not beautiful, perfect, abled people. I figured that was its strong point.

But my friend was right -- my editor didn't like handicapped heroes or heroines, or the idea that the ending was (in her view) less than happy for one of them. She nixed all seven of the other premises, too. Some were better (as in more mainstream, less risky) than Mike's story, so it puzzled me.

I found out why when the editor told me the publisher only wanted me to continue the storyline from the trilogy I'd just wrapped up that June. Wrapped up as in finished, done, over, no more stories. Being the cooperative soul that I am, I went home, filed away all my new ideas in my unwritten archives and wrote up what they wanted. Those books became the Jessica Hall novels, which made my publisher happy and added greatly to the savings account.

Stuff happens. You adapt, you compromise, you keep working. Or you don't. Those are the choices we sometimes have to make between creating art and making a living.

What's in your unwritten archives?

36 comments:

  1. My to-be-written file is three pages long, but my most memorable is probably a story I like to call "Bad Fluffy Bunnies". A race of evil space bunnies intent on world domination lands outside a lettuce farm in the rural SE.

    That's about as far as I've developed it though.

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  2. I have mine scrawled on a bunch of crumpled post-it notes and across pages of spiral-ringed notebooks. I used to email ideas to myself when I was answering phones.

    Several of the ideas brewing in my head last year are making it into the current ms. Pretty freaky. But they are connected. Same theme.

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  3. I had an idea for a book about a female arson investigator titled "The Fire Down Below." One of these days, I'm going to use that title somewhere.

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  4. I have a young adult novel called Five Minutes More which deals with suicide. Probably too many suicides for one book. Another YA about a teen keeping her pregnancy secret and then abandoning the baby. And the outline for a series with a pair of amatuer sleuths--one who's recovering from a stroke and the other who's halfway through changing his gender.

    Not really cheery stuff, is it?

    Hey Jaye, my smutty little mind likes The Fire Down Below as a title, but only if the arson investigator moonlights as a phone sex operator.

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  5. All sorts of stuff! I regularly cull the archives for ideas to see which ones are ready to hatch, so I won't describe 'em here. I've pulled things out and sold them years later...like my St. Martin's Press debut. : )

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  6. Darlene, how did you know? The twist is she's schizophrenic so she has no idea she's also the arsonist.

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  7. A paranormal romance between a backwoods girl from a closed, anachronistic, mountaintop community and the federal agent sent to investigate a string of bloody murders committed in the town at the bottom of the mountain.

    Five years ago, it was deemed a no-go because my heroine can't read or write, and her face is scarred. More recently, I was told it wouldn't work because my villain is a werewolf, and werewolves are selling only as heroes these days. ( I was told this by a bestselling author of werewolf romance. I wonder if she might be a bit biased. Hmmm....)

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  8. A novel about a colony on another planet that has turned its back on technology, and a young protag who abandons the humans (after they murder his father) to live with the natives and teach them science.

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  9. I always wondered why you had characters crossover into books under a different pen name...

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  10. Anonymous12:21 PM

    I've been thinking about a SF story that would be set in the past (1930's?) and reflect what would have been a futuristic viewpoint at that time.

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  11. Sigh! Everything, still.

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  12. I quite like your Hell on Wheels idea, actually. It sounds more thriller than romance--surely that genre can endure something less than happily-ever-after?

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  13. Mine is a "what if you made a different decision way back then" sort of story I might actually write.

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  14. Anonymous1:43 PM

    I have a whole folder full of ideas and sketches.
    I call them my 'back burner' stuff.
    A boy in a wheelchair and a talking hawk who time-travels, a rom-com story about a fortune teller who steals a racehorse, a story about a couple of swindlers and their ward - a young girl who puts the finishing touches on their scams (set in an alternate world circa 1800's Victorian England)...and a bunch of space bunnies who want to take over the world...LOL Just kidding. (love that idea, B.E. Sanderson!)

    Sam

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  15. SandyW2:04 PM

    Right now, I’m working on a couple of inter-connected paranormal/urban fantasies. Because I like paranormal and those seem to be popular right now. Maybe I’ll actually get into print. Maybe.

    But I love history. And I have a couple of historical romances plotted and outlined. One set mostly in occupied Nashville, Tennessee, during the American Civil War. And the other in Palestine in the late 1800’s, the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Lots of detail, not a feisty virgin in sight. Sooner or later, the pendulum swings the other way, right?

    And Selah, I like the sound of the werewolf book. My first thought was ‘Melungeon.’

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  16. Too many to list... many many many many things which i hope will eventually be written. the one i'm working on for an epub right now has a very unperfect hero and heroine. here's to hoping they like it.

    but I want to read Hell On Wheels now... not that I don't love the Jessica Hall books but I want that one, too!

    Screw a perfect hero. sulk.

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  17. Half Moon Rising, the conquest of the Visigoth kingdom in Spain by the Arabs in 711. But I'm not sure a MC who starts out Christian but converts to Islam will sell.

    Not to mention I'd have to learn some Arab in order to get a better feel for the culture, and right now I'm busy excavating that half forgotten Latin from the depths of my brain. The teachers at school should have started with poetry, it's a lot more fun than boring old Cicero. :)

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  18. I posted something and blogger ate it. mutter.

    Not going to type the whole thing out again. Suffice to say, I, too, have many many unwritten ideas. One that's nagging at me lately, though, is a YA Fantasy about a squire who, through a series of unfortunate events, is convicted of cowardice. He eventually makes his way to another land and distinguishes himself.

    There was more to it of course, but I'm not typing that much again. Curse you, Blogger.

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  19. Great idea! I'll post the answer in my blog.

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  20. Anonymous3:55 PM

    I'd read Hell on Wheels and romantic-y stuff isn't *usually* my cup of tea. Wanted to let you know I got my book today; thank you so much!

    My own to-be-written file isn't that big, last year was hard on me writing-wise. None of the things in it scream out to me which is why they're sitting there... not enough juice to them right now.
    Jess

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  21. I wrote about this on my own blog today.

    I recently spent time working on the first 100 pages of a medical thriller that failed to thrill my agent, so I'm off to other things.

    I can't decide if this kind of rejection is easier or harder to deal with now that I'm regularly published. I mean, I've always got the contracted work to fall back on, but man, there's some other stuff I want to see print.

    Best,
    Mark Terry
    www.markterrybooks.com

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  22. Just a note for the visitors and regular commenters -- I've reworked my profile so that my Blogger name now shows up as Lynn Viehl in comments. I'm hoping this avoids any further identity confusion between me and other bloggers who have decided to use handles that are similar or identical to the ones I've been using for years.

    B.E. wrote: A race of evil space bunnies intent on world domination lands outside a lettuce farm in the rural SE.

    Sounds like fun. I can remember reading only one story with evil space bunnies; I think it was in Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde by Spinrad. His approach was more like G.I. Joe battles the Care Bears.

    Trace wrote: Several of the ideas brewing in my head last year are making it into the current ms. Pretty freaky. But they are connected. Same theme.

    They've likely had time to percolate -- sometimes time allows ideas to develop more instead of fade away.

    Jaye wrote: I had an idea for a book about a female arson investigator titled "The Fire Down Below." One of these days, I'm going to use that title somewhere.

    Hoo-boy, that's a keeper. :)

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  23. Darlene wrote: I have a young adult novel called Five Minutes More which deals with suicide. Probably too many suicides for one book. Another YA about a teen keeping her pregnancy secret and then abandoning the baby. And the outline for a series with a pair of amatuer sleuths--one who's recovering from a stroke and the other who's halfway through changing his gender.

    Not really cheery stuff, is it?


    Sometimes we don't want cheery stuff. When I was a teen and went through some dark, angst-riddled times, I found a lot of answers I needed by reading books like Go Ask Alice, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and The Bell Jar. They talked about things my parents, teachers and even my friends avoided.

    I also like books that aren't set in the Village of Happy People to Whom Nothing Bad Ever, Ever Happens, no matter how much my mother would like me to move there. ;)

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  24. Charlene wrote: I've pulled things out and sold them years later...like my St. Martin's Press debut. : )

    Yeah, you never know when the unwritten archives may end up producing a winner. When I think of how close I came to deleting all of my Darkyn files back in 2003....

    Selah wrote: Five years ago, it was deemed a no-go because my heroine can't read or write, and her face is scarred. More recently, I was told it wouldn't work because my villain is a werewolf, and werewolves are selling only as heroes these days.

    I don't know if I agree with that -- it might be a harder sell, but I don't think it's impossible. It would definitely stand out.

    It's amazing what we can't do, though, isn't it? I was told I'd never get a vampire novel into print (ignore the three I have published, the two in production, and the offer I got for two more yesterday.) Or a historical (I didn't, I sold three as a WFH.) Or make any money writing SF (I won't tell anyone the next time I go deposit a big fat royalty check in the kids' college funds if you don't.) Or survive as a multi-genre writer (I *know* I'm doomed to total and complete failure, any decade now.)

    It's up to you, Selah, but these days when for whatever reason I'm told that I can't do something, I take it as a sign to sub it all over the place.

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  25. Well, first I'll need to dig it out and rewrite it, because my voice now compared to five years ago? Like two different people. Like two different species, actually, separated by light years in the space-time continuum. Or something.

    But you've inspired me. Again. Thanks. ;)

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  26. Buffysquirrel wrote: A novel about a colony on another planet that has turned its back on technology, and a young protag who abandons the humans (after they murder his father) to live with the natives and teach them science.

    With all the humans-are-superior SF out there, that kind of scenario really appeals to me.

    Hanna wrote: I always wondered why you had characters crossover into books under a different pen name...

    The White Tiger books were originally planned as Gena Hale novels (I actually have a cover art .jpg for The Deepest Edge with a GH byline) and then more stuff happened and they ended up making me into Jessica Hall. I thought it was confusing, but being still rather green at the time, I didn't challenge any of the decisions that were made.

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  27. Anonymous wrote: I've been thinking about a SF story that would be set in the past (1930's?) and reflect what would have been a futuristic viewpoint at that time.

    I'm already picking up a steampunk vibe. :) I had fun re-reading The Masks of Time by Robert Silverberg last year; it was written in the sixties and projected among other things what technological wonders and cultural hijinks the author thought we'd have on the brink of Y2K. Cops with neural whips, lots of free love and beatnik attitudes, Woodstock-flavored ideology. Reminds me a bit of Austin Powers, but it was probably quite daring for its time.

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  28. JM wrote: Sigh! Everything, still.

    Remember, idea inventory is a good thing. Premises (and a few full manuscripts) for at least ten of my books did nothing for their first five to ten years of existence but get rejected and gather dust. :)

    ACD wrote: I quite like your Hell on Wheels idea, actually. It sounds more thriller than romance--surely that genre can endure something less than happily-ever-after?

    Thanks. A genre should be open to all sorts of stories, but unfortunately there are always those who want to tell the rest of us what to write and how we're allowed to write it. I'm encouraged by many of the newly-published writers out there who are telling the HEA hardliners to buzz off and are writing what they want. They're the ones who have the best chance of cutting the romance genre out of its moldering HEA straitjacket.

    Nir wrote: Mine is a "what if you made a different decision way back then" sort of story I might actually write.

    Alternate personal histories are very cool.

    Sam wrote: A boy in a wheelchair and a talking hawk who time-travels, a rom-com story about a fortune teller who steals a racehorse, a story about a couple of swindlers and their ward - a young girl who puts the finishing touches on their scams (set in an alternate world circa 1800's Victorian England)...and a bunch of space bunnies who want to take over the world...

    I'm going to get an outraged call soon from The Friends of Domesticated Rabbits, I just know it (Bunnies are our FRIENDS!) I like the one you have for the swindlers and their ward -- Victorian novels are so tough to write, though; the details demand meticulous research, and the readers are practically experts themselves (which is why I will happily keep reading them instead of writing them.)

    Sandy wrote: But I love history. And I have a couple of historical romances plotted and outlined. One set mostly in occupied Nashville, Tennessee, during the American Civil War. And the other in Palestine in the late 1800’s, the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Lots of detail, not a feisty virgin in sight. Sooner or later, the pendulum swings the other way, right?

    My grandmother loved Civil War books; I'd be jumping on the one set in Palestine. I agree about the pendulum in the sense that I think something major is going to happen with historical fiction. I can't say what, but I think it will whisk it off into its own category or a new sub-genre. The book that changes things hasn't hit the market yet, but I get the feeling it's coming.

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  29. Shiloh wrote: ...but I want to read Hell On Wheels now... not that I don't love the Jessica Hall books but I want that one, too!

    I loved Mike's character and the idea for his book (I also had planned to update Mike's daughter Laurie's romance from PI in Mike's book too), but I wonder if I could even write the story now. It seems almost too simple -- or maybe I've gotten too complicated. Weird how that can happen.

    Gabriele wrote: Half Moon Rising, the conquest of the Visigoth kingdom in Spain by the Arabs in 711. But I'm not sure a MC who starts out Christian but converts to Islam will sell.

    It's ironic that we have to consider things like that now. Another creative muzzle.

    Steven, after much wrestling with Blogger, wrote: One that's nagging at me lately, though, is a YA Fantasy about a squire who, through a series of unfortunate events, is convicted of cowardice. He eventually makes his way to another land and distinguishes himself.

    That definitely grabs the kid in me. I'm sorry you had trouble with Blogger, S -- this is the first time today I've been able to post myself.

    Krista wrote: Great idea! I'll post the answer in my blog.

    Sure, tantalize us with promises, and then go running off to do real life stuff. Lol.

    Jess wrote: My own to-be-written file isn't that big, last year was hard on me writing-wise. None of the things in it scream out to me which is why they're sitting there... not enough juice to them right now.

    Thanks for letting me know the package landed safely. :) It's good that you have the self-discipline to let the ideas alone to simmer. I've never regretted leaving alone one of mine that didn't shout to be written.

    Mark wrote: I can't decide if this kind of rejection is easier or harder to deal with now that I'm regularly published. I mean, I've always got the contracted work to fall back on, but man, there's some other stuff I want to see print.

    It frustrates me when that happens, especially with an idea I really love, but I think it's good for my soul. If everything I wrote made it into print, I'd probably end up gagging my internal editor and let myself get away with all kinds of nonsense.

    Still, that last one that my editor bounced was so GOOD! ;)

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  30. I have an ideas book... ah, and files, notebooks, post-its, too.

    In looking at those ideas now, I can see that I've been gazumped by other authors; not entirely sure what to do about that - they were nifty ideas.

    At the moment, the book I'm thinking of writing next involves a woman betrayed in 1314 and forced to accept immortality (not a vampire or preternatural creature in sight). Fast forward in time and she meets a soldier in the desert with whom she strikes a bargain: she will help him complete his mission, if he will end her hellish existence.

    I'm just working out the details before I put fingers to the keyboard.

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  31. Couple ideas, couple different genres...

    YA/Chick-lit about finding your own way in life and discovering new things, whatever it may be, and the beginnings of romance

    Contemporary suspense-romance ...and then a sequel starring secondary character (from the previous idea) and his heroine, a security consultant with a unique method.

    A SF and a paranormal series with plots still in the works.

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  32. I've found myself tinkering around with an old short story lately (usually after a few frustrating pages of the WiP). It has Orcs. And a sea battle. I like it, but then I feel guilty and scurry back to my WiP.

    Speaking of, it has an MC who is a Muslim Jack Bauer in the 12th century. I'm ready for the hate mail.

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  33. Jules6:15 AM

    I have one story I got about a quarter of the way through a few years back. OK, probably more like ten years back, now I think about it. It was a time travel story, setup somewhat like the terminator / twelve monkeys: group of refugees from a post-apocalyptic world travel back in time to try to prevent the war. Only they fail, and the MC has to live through the war again, wait until the time machine is developed again and then use it to go somewhere a bit safer. But he leaves himself a message about how to do it better next time: get the girl and take her to safety. It's not the ending you expect when you start reading it, but I reckon it'll work.

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  34. Going through my "story ideas" file, I found my "bizarre ideas" ... err ... dumping ground. And I quote:

    "A race of aliens that survives harsh winters by having better adapted slaves pour hot water on their backs

    Transdimensional bicycle thieves

    A time travel experiment (which involves manipulating objects' momentum in the time axis, but remember momentum must be conserved...) causes time to fracture."

    I _think_ those are three separate ideas.

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  35. First, I read your most recent post and hope your dad is doing better.

    I can see why your publisher or agent didn't see the potential of that story as a romance novel. But it looks to me like a great idea for a mainstream novel -- one I would enjoy reading. I hope you haven't given up on it completely. Maybe one day when you feel the bank account is already healthy? :)

    (I follwed Mark Terry here from his blog, BTW.)

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  36. Anonymous10:40 AM

    Jaye Wells said...

    Darlene, how did you know? The twist is she's schizophrenic so she has no idea she's also the arsonist.


    You are mixing up schizophrenia with dissociative identity disorder. Here are links to descriptions of each disorder & NAMI:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizophrenia
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociative_identity_disorder
    http://www.nami.org/

    I hope these help.

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