So, You Again. I either resurrect this sucker this time or it’s going to be the first book I’ve ever given up on.
For the past several days, I’ve pulled every file, every document, every jpg I’ve ever had on this book since 2004 (yes, that would be ten years since I started it) and waded through the files. So far, 687 of the files were so corrupted I could open them. Another 236 were duplicates or fragments I skimmed and knew I wouldn’t use. And then there were the 314 jpgs that just didn’t work any longer. Yes, I trashed 1237 docs and jogs. There’s still plenty left to read through before another cull: I kept eighty-nine outline and note docs and 143 jpgs, and probably half of those will go before I’ve got this book focused. And that’s all before I start on the actual scene files:
The moral is, if you’re going to keep working on a book (and killing two laptops with Diet Coke so that you have to rescue great whacks of documents in a hurry), stop and cull before ten years go by and you’re looking at a nightmare.
So as I dig down through ten years of layers on this book, I have realized many things. One is that starting this book as a homage to Agatha Christie, my version of the people locked in a country house with a murderer, was a bad idea for two reasons. The first is that I always start with my protagonist, my romance heroine, who shows up in my head and starts talking. If I try to go into a book any other way, it sets me back weeks, if not months (or years, in this case); Faking It is another example of this. So in the past ten years, my heroine has been named Zelda, Esme, Emma, Roxy, and now Zelda again. She’s been a cookbook writer and a botanist. She’s been depressed, angry, flirtatious, sexually rapacious, detached, and dead. Hey, it’s been ten years. People change.
Meanwhile, her best friend has only had two personas, Beth, a very sweet woman who bored me to tears and Scylla who has a difficult relationship with reality. I’m keeping Scylla, she’s very much alive on the page for me. Plus Scylla gave me the character dynamic I needed for the heroine. The two women have been best friends all their lives, working partners since they were 17, and they’ve fallen into the assumptions that plague any set of two: they’ve defined themselves by their relationship to each other. That is, Scylla is the creative dreamer and Zelda is the practical anchor. They write books about food which, unless you’re on the Food Network, is no sure way to make a living, and they’re in early thirties, so the peripatetic life they’ve been leading is beginning to pall. What they need is something to blast them out of their assumptions, which is the first act of the book. Because of what happens in the first act, really from the first scene, the women’s characters arc in opposition to each other, Zelda becoming the imaginative one (she starts seeing ghosts, people think she’s crazy) and Scylla becomes the practical one (because Zelda’s losing it). I think the opposites arc ends at the crisis, and the last act is them both finding a middle ground, independent of each other. I like that arc and it’s alive in my head instead of just making sense on paper, so I’m good with that.
Weirdly, most of the supporting cast is solid in my head. Rose, Malcolm, Quentin, Mike, Ruby, Ruby’s boyfriend (who’s had so many names I’m just going to toss them all and start over), Mary (gotta change that, too many M names), Angela, Nora, Liam, Francis, Issy . . . All of those people have very clear characters, back stories, arcs, I know them all. Well, I should, I’ve been thinking about them off and on for ten freaking years. So the only one I don’t have is my heroine. Oh, and my hero. Yes, the two main characters in a romance, and I’m still a little shaky on them. His name started out as James. I thought that was too formal, so I changed it to Spencer, but Spencer turned out to be kind of a stuffed shirt, so I changed it to Sam, and Sam is just not going to work here. James was a lawyer, but that was kind of stuffy, too, so I made Sam a hostage negotiator, which was more useful in the book, but . . .
So this week, I’m going through all the actual story I’ve put on paper, culling all the duplicates, all the stuff I know isn’t going to work, and I’m prepared to jettison most of it. When I went back to rewrite Bet Me, I think I ended up with about four thousand words of the original; everything else went. The good thing is, I like a lot of what I have, just from skimming it, so I should be able to salvage more. I have almost 60,000 words on this book (I think; could be more), they’re just all over the place, probably because I’m fuzzy on those two vital ingredients in a romance, the heroine and hero.
Oh, and the other problem with making this my homage to Agatha Christie’s Golden Age country house mysteries is that I am not an Agatha Christie writer. But then on an impulse, I re-read a Georgette Heyer country house mystery and realized that’s who my inspiration was, which makes sense since Heyer inspired me to write romance. The Girls: always as work, even when you’re reading for pleasure.
And now I must go do some more archaeology and hope I find a heroine and hero buried in the debris.