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Monday, March 8, 2010

The Manuscript Under the Bed

When I talked to people about my first published novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow, one of the first questions I’m asked is, “Is this the first book you’ve written?”


The answer is an emphatic “No!”

I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember. In fact, I started out writing sequels or alternate endings to my favorite Nancy Drew stories. I was either going to be a “girl detective” or a writer. Needless to say, I chose the latter.

Later, in high school, I tried my hand at what is now known as “young adult” romances. You know the kind, the boy-meets-girl stuff, with a few kisses thrown into the mix. But I never found them to be completely satisfying.

After a short break from writing fiction, while I concentrated on a career in journalism, I returned to it, realizing it was always my first love. This time, however, I decided to try my hand at historical romantic fiction. It was what I loved to read, and it had all those juicy historical details found in the novels of the ‘80’s.

Thus was born Emerald Fortunes, later re-titled Emerald Fire, Tender Flame. A 600-page tome, it followed the lives of Rory O’Brien and Siobhán Kilpatrick practically from birth to death (or at least, to the happily-ever-after). Set against the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, it followed the characters around the country over a more than 20-year span.

Of course, that book never sold. As a historical, the time period was all wrong then. Anything after 1900 wasn’t considered “historical,” yet it wasn’t considered “contemporary” either.

So I went on to write several other manuscripts. The second, a story set in Victorian-era Montreal featuring a French-Scottish heiress to a shipping line, and the Irishman set on revenge, was shorter and better written, but several editors rejected it on the grounds that the setting was too “foreign.”

On to a third manuscript, still unfinished, and a fourth.

In my case, the fourth one was the charm. In Sunshine or in Shadow features the aforementioned Rory O’Brien and Siobhán Kilpatrick in a different time and place. It’s now available from Highland Press, and the sequel, Coming Home, will be released in 2010.

But I don’t consider those "other" manuscripts a waste of time. They may never see the light of day, but they were a valuable learning tool. They taught me how to write, what to write, and the experience has brought me to what I am today.

At last, a published author.

20 comments:

EmilyBryan said...

I have few "training wheels" manuscripts, too. They were my trial and error works and they richly deserve the obscurity they enjoy.

Cynthia Owens said...

Thanks for stopping by, Emily. That's exactly how I feel about my "trial and errors." They were fun and educational at the same time!

Ann Lethbridge said...

You are so right, Cynthia. I have one that will never be resurrected, and I was so proud of it when I finished it, but the story line is so flawed it isn't true, and a couple of others that just might be salvaged -- if re written from scratch -- but a writer must practice and keep practicing, by writing, if they want to hone their skill.
Great post.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Ann, thanks for visiting. I'm often asked how one gets to be a good writer, and I've given talks at my daughter's school about writing. I always tell them that the only way to be good at something, whether it's writing or anything else, you have to practice, practice and practice. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Blythe Gifford said...

Interesting post. My first manuscript actually sold, eventually. After many, many, many revisions, it became my third published book, INNOCENCE UNVEILED. Among its (near) fatal flaws was that it was set in Flanders. It took awhile to find an editor who found that exciting, rather than off-putting!

Beth Trissel said...

Amazingly enough, the first manuscript I ever wrote and rewrote over the years, and put aside but kept coming back to as I better honed the craft is Coming Out this fall! Historical romance Red Bird's Song. I'm thrilled. It's been 15 years since I first began that story.
Whew.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Blythe, it's great that you could sell your first manuscript! Just goes to show that if you stick to it, eventually it will happen. Thanks for stopping by!

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Beth, congrats on your first sale! If it's truly the book of your heart, it's worth re-working it. I just had to find the right story and the right characters at the right time. Thanks for visiting!

Kathy Otten said...

I have a contemporary in a box I've been thinking about rewriting as a historical, because I like the characters so much, but part of me knows it will always stay in the box. I do have one under contract that is going through edits that I started probably almost eleven years ago. At the time I had way too much back story and a sagging middle and no clear goals. They are all valuable though for what I've learned writing them.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Kathy, if you've learned from these early manuscripts, even if they never see publication, they are a valuable tool. Thanks for stopping by!

Susan Macatee said...

I don't think any writing we do is a waste of time, Cynthia!

My two unpublished manuscripts were both YA historicals. The first was a time travel that wasn't working. I tore it apart and reworked some of the material into a straight YA historical that was eventually published. The other was more of middle-grade reader ghost story. That one never sold, but I learned a lot from writing it, so it wasn't a waste of time at all.

Clover Autrey said...

You can't learn to write without actually plunging in and doing it. I have two and a half manuscripts that should only see the light of day for purposes of showing where I was to where I've gotten. I do love those characters though. Actually one of them I pulled out of the sinking raft and gave her her own ship. That was the first book I sold.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Susan, no it's definitely NOT a waste of time! It's that all-important practice, improving your writing until you have it down perfectly. Thanks for posting!

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Clover, thanks for stopping by! I know what you mean about getting attached to a character or characters. My first published novel had the same characters as my first unpublished novel! The can get under your skin, can't they?

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

"They" say you have to write a million words minimum to get "it" right. I agree that with every story you learn something - maybe a lot of somethings. I know with each story, maybe each chapter, I grow as a writer and find it easier to come up with appropriate words.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Paisley, thanks for stopping by. Yes, a million sounds about right, but it's not just the right words, it's also the right emotions, the right atmosphere, to make the readers fall in love right along with your hero and heroine.

Pat McDermott said...

Sounds like your characters demanded a story! We visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in western Massachusetts several years ago. What struck me most was the exhibits of the numerous drafts Rockwell did before he even started painting his masterpieces, and not every draft made it to the final stage. The same is true of musicians. Getting that tune or painting or story from your head to a canvas, piano, or manuscript is an art form requiring dedication and perseverance. We all have our draft exhibits. The finished stories are like the tip of an iceberg. Good luck with your sequel, Cynthia!

Cynthia Owens said...

Thanks, Pat! The only problem I have with keeping old drafts of manuscripts is that I tend to want to keep everything I wrote in the first place. I try to write from scratch every time, or at least until I think it's a saleable manuscript. Thanks for your good wishes on Coming Home.

librarypat said...

I was going to comment about Emily Bryan's post for today. Funny that she was your first commenter. As she demonstrated, even something that doesn't get published is a learning tool. I guess it is the writer's version of practice, practice, practice.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi librarypat, that's exactly it - practice hopefully makes perfect. Thanks for stopping by!