Some of you may remember I mentioned waaaaay back here that a friend of mine from grad school had a novel forthcoming. I asked if she would be willing to share a little bit about her journey to the sale. Enjoy!
What was your inspiration for this story?
Pirates! I very specifically sat down to write a m/m romantic story featuring pirates. Dreamspinner author Heidi Cullinan, a member of my local National Novel Writing Month region, mentioned the press was looking for volunteer copy editors. I did copy edits on ten m/m romance Dreamspinner novels to gain some confidence and learn what the press published, found out they wanted more historical submissions, particularly featuring pirates, and got writing! Important note: This was six years ago. And yes, I had no idea the personal growth adventure I was about to have!
What was your process from concept to query-ready?
At that point, I had already written three NaNoWriMo novels, two fantasy and one science fiction, that were adventures with romantic subplots (m/f main characters and some LGBT side characters), and those were fun (it took me about four months including NaNo to complete each). So I thought it would be easy to transfer those skills and my creative-writing-master-of-the-arts chops over to historical m/m romance.
BOY WAS I WRONG. Here I will discuss how sausage is made. Avert your eyes, faint of heart:
Writing a romance novel was HARD. Writing a historical (i.e. no magic or space ships) was HARD. I created my two male characters whom destiny had brought together on a tropical island, guided them through their internal and relationship problems until they were a couple, then threw some pirates at them. It was good times, but at 27,000 words when complete, it was not a novel. I also knew it wasn’t a romance because there was too much adventure and complicated colonial politics of the 1820s Caribbean taking the focus away from the relationship. I loved it—but I didn’t know what the heck to do with it. After four months (January-April) of hard work creating the ~30k draft, disappointed by how long it had taken me to craft even that much, I thought about the ten novels I’d copy edited and thought it was not what Dreamspinner would be looking for. I had a few false starts of trying to rewrite it and make it novel-sized, or more romantic, but my self-confidence/skill wasn’t up to the task.
So I put it in a drawer. Six years passed, and I would occasionally revisit the draft, have warm, loving feels for my characters and try to edit it, enlarge it, and consider what to do with it, but come up with nada. What I was doing was self-rejection at its finest. I was blocked on this story.
Fast forward six years, six more NaNoWriMo novels, earning an MFA in popular fiction, and publishing about twenty short stories—my confidence grew more and more with each publication. I sent one of my other novels to a press and it was glowingly accepted, though the editor advised me to send it to a larger press because of the high quality (that email floored me! And gave me the confidence to seek an agent for that novel, which is currently under consideration). I looked through my other projects and remembered how much I had loved my 27,000 word m/m pirate adventure, re-read it and found I still cared deeply about the characters. I submitted it to one novella publisher and was rejected. On a whim, I visited the Dreamspinner site to see if perhaps they were publishing shorter fiction now, and noticed they were coming out with a new imprint called DSP Publications that was more LGBT genre focused (fantasy, sf, historical, mystery etc.) rather than romance. BINGO! I decided to send them a query and ask if they were interested in this as a short e-novella piratical adventure.
Much to my amazement and delight they wrote back. *cue party music*
They thought it was an interesting story with two fascinating characters. The editor asked me about my vision—was it stand-alone or part of a series? She said their reviewers recommended it be expanded into a novel. Was I interested in working with an editor to expand the story?
Me of six years ago would have been too afraid to take this challenge. Me of ten novels and an MFA and some short story and novella publications under her belt was all like YES, YES I WOULD AND THANK YOU. They sent me a reasonable contract that included an advance and nice royalties percentage, a beautifully macro-edited manuscript with wonderful suggestions for expansion that dissolved my blocks instantly, and gave me three months to expand the novel.
And how did that process go?
Three months to expand by at least 23,000 words? No problem! I’m a NaNoWriMo kid!
Again, I approached this with my usual odd mix of overconfidence and low self-esteem, but this time I had two very important tools. Someone important (an editor) had read my draft and said it was good and publishable, and had pinpointed for me exactly what I should do to expand it to something novel length.
I decided to get to work right away at the beginning of the summer just in case I had unforeseen obstacles or health issues. I’m so very glad I did. Even with editorial guidance, I felt I couldn’t edit the thing until I’d emotionally reconnected at a deep level with my characters—who were they, what were their hopes and dreams and histories, what were my hopes and dreams for their futures—because in order to incorporate her suggestions at high skill, I had to intimately know my story. If I didn’t agree with a suggestion, I wanted to be able to intuit what the problem was she was pointing out, and what would best serve my vision of both the characters and the story I wanted to tell. This is truly a Karen Bovenmyer story.
It was very, very hard to get that intimacy back. Not only had time passed, but I was a different person now and writing at a much higher level. I worked on editing every day, re-reading the original, making small changes, re-reading her macro-edit letter and all her comments, re-writing here and there, bringing up the skill and craft. It was taking a very long time and I started to get nervous. I took a week off work and called for backup. My 14-year-old niece camped out in my writing room with me for that week, making sure I was not only continually working my way through the draft, but also getting at least 10,000 steps, food, and 10 minute breaks every few hours. When she left, I had managed all the minor edits and a 10,000 word expansion (far short of my goal) but I’d fully re-bonded with the story and characters. The next six weeks, I wrote a total of 35,000 words and did an enormous amount of historical research (even at the vocabulary level because this is a first person narrative—the Oxford English Dictionary helped me select words only used before 1822). The novella I had written is now the middle of the 72,500 word novel and is still the heart of the story, and I am extremely proud of the expansions and how they shaped the character journeys and message of now well-researched book I turned in at the end of July.
What about the process do you wish you’d known sooner?
I’m lucky that I guessed it was going to be hard to re-bond to the work and bring the level of writing up to my current skill. If I hadn’t known that, there would have been a lot more stress and panic. Also, I was lucky that it was summer, and I had the extra time and lower amount of stress to deal with it (my day job is at a university and my family owns and operates a Christmas tree farm). It was the best possible time for me to work on it, and everything just sort of fell into place. Perhaps the one thing I wish I’d known sooner was remembering how useful a writing soundtrack is. After I had all four Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks in a playlist, I cranked that thing on while driving home to write and by the time I was home, I was ready to jump back in that world. I wish I’d thought of that in May rather than in July, it would have sped up my bonding time.
Another important note—I re-read a favorite J R Ward book at the beginning of July and lost valuable work time. I wish I’d remembered how obsessed I get when reading and discovering someone else’s world and how that robs my focus. Next time—playlist earlier and no other novel reading when facing the revision challenge!
Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer will be released in the first quarter of 2017.
Summer, 1822: Caribbean Sea…
Benjamin Swift imagines himself a smuggler, a gun runner, and an all-around scoundrel. A preacher’s son turned hard-bitten criminal. Sinner extraordinaire. But first and foremost, a survivor.
He’s never considered himself noble.
When Benjamin is shipwrecked on a tropical island, fortune sends an unlikely savior: a blond savage who is everything Benjamin didn’t know he needed. Falling in love with Sun is easy, but pirates have come looking for the remains of Benjamin’s cargo. They find their former slave, Sun, instead.
Held captive by the pirates, Benjamin learns the depths of Sun’s past and the horrors he has been exposed to and forced to perpetrate. Together, they must not only escape, but prevent a shipment of weapons from making its way to rebellious colonists. Benjamin is determined to save the man he loves and ensure their peaceful future together is never threatened again. To succeed might require the unthinkable—an altruistic sacrifice.