Monday, May 09, 2011

The Evolution of a Story

I started Always a Princess in the 1990s with the germ of an idea…what if two people met at a gala London ball, both planning to steal the same jewel?  He's the son of an earl, recently returned from his travels against his will.  She's a lower class woman who steals to survive.

My heroine, Eve, needed a bigger goal than just staying alive.  As a child in the London slums, Eve always imagined that the bucolic life would be a paradise, and she wants to buy a farm and escape the city completely.  After a major jewel heist, and after surrendering her virginity to the hero, Phillip, she takes the stolen diamond necklace and disappears.

Of course, Eve would have no idea of the realities of country life, so I had her buy a dilapidated farm with a barn standing only until the next strong wind comes through and a scrawny cow with a moo that sounds like a death rattle.  I was working with an Englishwoman at the time, and she acted as my consultant on the book.  She had relatives who were farmers, and so she did double duty providing information.  I remember asking her what an English farmer would name his cow.  When she told me “Buttercup,” we both cracked up.  It was such an impossible name for that emaciated cow.

I turned in the book.  A while later, I had one of those calls from my editor at the time.  “Alice,” he said.  “I love the first half, but the rest doesn't work.”  He was right.  Not only had I hijacked the story from London, where it belonged, but I’d allowed my heroine to escape from the consequences of having slept with the hero.

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I put away that farm, with the leaky hayloft where the hero has to try to sleep after he’d tracked Eve down.  I took the story back to London and made Eve deal with Phillip and their new relationship.  I lost Buttercup.

Now, I had another half-book to write, and I needed an entire new plot.  I’d had a relatively unimportant character in Eve's bumbling but caddish former employer, Arthur.  I built a whole new thread in which Eve would take her revenge against him by marrying into his family and disgracing them.  I wrote that and turned it in.  After all that work, I got one more revision letter and did hours more.  Finally, the book appeared in 2001 published under the pseudonym Alice Chambers.

Flash forward to 2010.  I had the rights to Always a Princess back from the original publisher and asked Carina if they’d be interested in re-releasing it.  Happily, they were.  Now, I had a new editor, Jessica Schulte.  She liked much about the story but thought, rightly, that no woman in her right mind would ever want to marry Arthur Cathcart, even for revenge.  Out went that plot, and went back to work yet again.  I don’t want to reveal too much of the new story, but Arthur still plays an important part.  Also, the police are a bit more active in this version.

I was finished finally, right?  Well no.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog (The Case of the Disappearing Dukes), it’s always seemed odd to me that English lords seem to die off in their early fifties and sixties, leaving their thirty-something sons the title.  In Always a Princess, I’d given Phillip a mother and father he liked very much.  To some readers, that made him seem like a mama’s boy—not something you want in a romance hero.  A few more tweaks convinced Jessica we’d fixed that problem.

After all these rounds of changes, I estimate that I’ve written over 160,000 words to produce a 90,000 word book.  As a writer friend always tells me, “To write is to rewrite.”  I grumble every time he says that, but I do the work because he's right.  As writers, we have to remember that none of our words are gold-plated, and we have to discard them and produce more as the story demands.  We have editors for a reason.  No matter how long we’ve been writing, we can’t evaluate our own work the way a disinterested professional can.  If one of them tells me Buttercup has to go, I need to take his advice.  But, I sure do miss that cow.

Always a Princess will be released in August.

Alice's website

E-mail Alice


Taryn Kincaid said...

Congrats on Always a Princess, Alice.

Alice Gaines said...

Thanks. It was great working with Jessica again.

Wendy Soliman said...

Poor Buttercup! Where's she gone? You have to use her and her moo that sounds like a death rattle in another book. It's far too good to waste.

Alice Gaines said...

I agree, Wendy. I'll have to use Buttercup somehow.

Claire Robyns said...

I totally get the grumbles about writing and rewriting and rewriting, lol. Did you enjoy the process (and result) of breathing new life into your book? Would you say it's more or less difficult than starting from scratch?